Upon Further Review, Expect More Complaining About Video Replay
With the arrival of the first weekend of NFL action, a tradition is renewed for another year. No, not the tradition of Carrie Underwood flashing what her Momma gave her on the NBC opener. We’re talking about video replay cranking up for another year of complaint and rage in the NFL.
Sure, there’s been plenty of video review all summer in MLB and the CFL. It seems like we can’t have a catcher scratch his nose in baseball without umpires slapping on the audio cans for a chat with MLB suits in New York. Meanwhile, the CFL allows coaches to review the menu in the press box if they so desire.
But the NFL is the league that harnessed video review for the other sports, showed how it could work (or not work) and has been the beneficiary/ victim of second sight in the booth. So the video new year starts with Week One in the NFL. Not a Monday goes by without an airing of the officiating grievances from the day before.
How the referees messed up contested catch or the empty-hand rule are two surefire points of contention every weekend. Sunday there was the torturous completion-of-the-catch-through-contact-with-the-ground review in Indy, the how-many-seconds-left-at-the-time-of-the-tackle? (Baltimore) and the is-the-foot-on-the-line? call (Phoenix). There are people exorcised about them all.
Still, the pause for (reasonably) sober second thought is now as entrenched in the sport as Terry Bradshaw’s bad jokes. The principal argument against video replay was that it removed the “human element” in the sport. “Sure, referees make mistakes, but the breaks even out over time, and why the hell are we stopping a good game to watch a zebra under a hood while everyone else twiddles their thumbs?”
All good points. But they ignore a few other reasons for eliminating chance from a high-school principal who officiates NFL games on the side. First, the great unspoken truth: the NFL is built upon the bedrock of gambling and other types of wagering. If you took away office pools, over/ unders and now fantasy sports you’d be left with fans of the teams and not much else. Networks aren’t paying $6 billion a year for the Cleveland Browns’ demographic. That’s called hockey.
While the NFL publicly decries betting it knows that the integrity of its games is paramount if the fantasy wonks / poolies are to follow them. Leaving injustices to fester is the surest way for Fan Duel players or the Vegas crowd to abandon your product for another sport. Throw in network TV partners who are seen to be complicit in supporting bonehead calls, and you have a nasty stew of credibility.
People have bet on the NFL forever, you say. What’s changed? Tech. Until the advent of PVR technology and social media, you might have seen a real stinker call repeated a half dozen times in the following days, and then have it fade into the stratosphere with those 1950s rock ’n roll music signals. Fans griped, and a few media cranks played it for laughs. But that was it. The rest was just a memory.
But with Joe Fan, sitting own his sofa at home, able to play and replay the sideline call or the goal-line angle on his own TV screen there is no hiding the facts of a call. Social media allows him and his pals to then torch the referees on Twitter for days, creating a firestorm.
The NFL’s own TV partners have also made it worse for the league with their ability to reduce the game to its micro level, offering 17 views of a crucial penalty. If Mr. Fan, in his beery state, can see with his naked eye that Adrian Peterson’s knee was down short of the goal line there’s no point making out that the referee is biased.
And the NFL does get plenty wrong in its games— even with video replay. As a long-suffering Detroit Lions fan, there was no video-replay protection in the 2014 playoff game with Dallas when referees actually picked up a pass interference flag after the penalty had already been marched off. Nor was there justice in Seattle last year when a Seahawks defender knocked a Lions fumble out the back of his own end zone— and Seattle was still awarded the ball. (Not that I obsess about such things.)
That’s just the Lions. Don’t expect there to be fewer pauses in the action, either. With networks looking for any excuse to stuff commercials into the broadcast like butchers stuff a sausage, the hiatus while the league exacts its sideline justice is likely to be encouraged. Already the CFL has shown the way with its coaches’ challenge for pass interference calls. Even the Luddites of hockey are letting coaches’ reviews creep into their games, parsing offside calls they find objectionable.
Purists will still moan about the game losing the human element by referring every close call to the camera lens. But there’s nothing very human about getting something wrong when it can be judged properly. So get ready for more, “After further review…” in NFL games. Blame technology if you must, but it’s the price you pay for keeping the tinfoil hats from saying the whole thing’s fixed against their team
Which it is whenever the Lions play, of course…
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).