Cam Cole: How instant replay is ruining professional sports, one coach’s challenge at a time


The NFL might be ground zero for counterintuitive interpretations of instant replay.

The NFL might be ground zero for counterintuitive interpretations of instant replay.

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The legendary L.A. Times columnist Jim Murray once covered several World Cup soccer games and finally was able to write the following lede:
“A goal! I saw a goal!”

If he were alive today, his feigned shock might have been saved for: “I saw an undisputed touchdown!”

Or: “I saw a great punt return that didn’t get called back!”

Sarcasm still lives, but spontaneity in sports has been slowly disappearing, starting with the moment instant replay began refereeing games.
Now, it’s also coaching them.

The “challenge” era is upon us, ironically just as sports are trying to reduce the time it takes to play the games.

Simultaneously, there is a general tweaking of sports’ innumerable rules to try to cover every possible nuance and “get it right” — because heaven knows, replay will eventually slow every disputed catch or goal or stolen base into frame-by-frame forensic analysis, and reveal what the naked eye could not possibly have seen.

A base is easily stolen, but for a millisecond the runner’s last cleat isn’t 100 percent in contact with the bag? Gotcha! Or it’s obvious that the puck must be over the line but because the goalie’s pad is covering it, the camera can’t find it. Sorry!

The end result is: hold that cheer. They’re still conferring in Toronto, or New York.

Ruling on what happened after Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin’s throw back to the pitcher hit the batter’s hand in that mad seventh inning Wednesday, allowing Texas’s Rougned Odor to score from third, took 18 minutes. Not that anyone was asking for a refund, considering the wondrous sequence of events that followed.

They eventually got the call right, despite the home plate umpire’s initial error. The funny part? It was not supposed to be a reviewable play under baseball’s replay rules. And that’s the slippery slope — what can be challenged, and what can’t — that all of our pro sports are currently navigating.

Football may be Ground Zero for counterintuitive interpretations. A running back may dive for the endzone, losing the ball in mid-air as its tip “breaks the plane” above the first millimetre of paint on the goal line, but it’s a touchdown. A receiver may make a leaping catch fully inside the endzone, have both hands securely around it, touch one foot down and hurtle 15 feet through the air, but if the ball so much as wobbles when the receiver’s body touches down, it’s no catch.

The human eye couldn’t have seen the ball oscillate, but instant replay will find it.

A pass caught on the left flank will be routinely called back because a defender jostled a receiver on the right, where the quarterback never once looked. Many of the most exciting kick returns are nullified by an inconsequential push in the back (see Brandon Banks, Hamilton Tiger Cats, 2014 Grey Cup.) Common sense? Not advisable. Replay could make you look bad.

Indeed, refereeing has to be the worst job in the world, now that they all live in fear of being shown up by replay.

Was it a high stick? Was there a “distinct kicking motion”? Was the goalie interfered with, or did he (see Carey Price vs. Alex Killorn, 2014 playoffs) initiate the contact?

How did CFL officials fail to notice B.C. Lions DB Ryan Phillips getting flattened by a pick play that allowed Winnipeg to score its winning touchdown last week? Well, they did fail, but even replay couldn’t have been used to get it right, because offensive pass interference is not challengeable. Defensive pass interference is. (Don’t ask.)

Despite replay’s all-powerful influence, the decision of how much hand-fighting and jersey-pulling is allowable before crossing the “interference” threshold remains a judgment call, only the judges are in a studio.

How could Dodgers baserunner Chase Utley breaking the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada ever be called “just a good hard slide” though no attempt was made to slide or even touch second base? Instant replay would have sealed Utley’s fate, if the rule had been different, but there was nothing to review … until the public outcry was too much for even the Old Time Baseball neanderthals to withstand.

Maybe that’s a good place to begin, if ever sport is moved to consider what instant replay has wrought.

It is only as good as what it is being asked to see.

Start by reviewing the things that matter — injury-causing hits, puck over the line or not, fair ball or foul, in or out of bounds, photo-finish at the track — and leave the judgment calls on the field of play.

Replay often doesn’t really settle those arguments, anyway. It just starts new ones, and takes longer to do it.

Part of the charm of being a fan is the righteous indignation of “We were robbed!” with a side order of “Wait til next year!”

It’s no substitute for winning, but it is a salve to a wounded soul.

Long live imperfection. And the two-and-a-half hour game.

Postmedia News

The NFL might be ground zero for counterintuitive interpretations of instant replay.

The NFL might be ground zero for counterintuitive interpretations of instant replay.

The NFL might be ground zero for counterintuitive interpretations of instant replay.
Introduced during the 2014 season, instant replay has worked against baseball's goal of speeding up games.
Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister, right, talks to home plate umpire Dale Scott during Game 5 of the American League Division Series  against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto on Wednesday.
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