Video replay: is the solution worse than the crime?

We can't go back to spitballing the big calls. For the teams and the fans, too much depends on getting it right

Bruce DowbigginYogi Berra is notorious for saying “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Yogi was warning about jumping to conclusions in close contests. But he never foresaw a contest that never ended. For reference, consider the he 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.

That race will probably never be over for those who participated in or witnessed it.

For that you can thank video replays.

Here’s your Coles Notes version of events. Maximum Security became the first winner disqualified for interference in the Derby’s 145-year history. A 22-minute video review led to a reversal that made 65-1 shot Country House the winner.

Maximum Security was moved from first place to 17th, behind Long Range Toddy, who was determined by the stewards to be the last of the horses affected by the interference.

Needless to say, those 22 minutes were a cornucopia of video replays that seemed to show Maximum Security veer to the right through three lanes of traffic. There was obvious bumping and one horse nearly went down in the crowded 19-horse field.

There were as many opinions about whether this constituted a disqualification as there were angles of the race. In the end, the stewards decided the bumping was dangerous enough and pulled down Maximum Security’s number.

The owner of Maximum Security has said he’ll appeal the decision that denied him the roses in Lexington.

At Churchill Downs alone this amounted to a $ 9-million swing for bettors both crushed and happy. In Las Vegas, it was a similar irritation. “[We] went from a good-sized win to a good-sized loss,” SuperB0ok sportsbook director John Murray told ESPN. “The SuperBook animal racing trade team is annoyed by the decision.”

Ya think?

Another person unimpressed was the peanut gallery in the White House known as Donald Trump: “The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough and tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby – not even close!”

We live in a sports world where the attempt to settle debates via video replay has left as many unsatisfactory decisions as outcomes resolved. The post-season travesties suffered by the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Orleans Saints are examples of the solution being worse than the crime.

As I’ve previously said, each of these situations required more film study than a Hitchcock revival. Everyone from TV talking heads to the average fan seems to agree that this is all a mess. Jon Gruden vowed that, as the head National Football League coach in Oakland, he was going to make clarifying these sorts of calls a priority.

But he’s whistling in the dark. The sports have opened Pandora’s Box, although few wish to admit it. Even having demonstrated the failures of their referees and video officials in repeated key instances, do they think they can go back to spitballing the big calls again?

Do they expect the public and bettors to put up with the old ‘it looks good’ standard when TV replays clearly show the opposite?

For all the venom unleashed about the NFL catch rule or the sliding-past-the-bag controversy in baseball, no one has a cogent alternative that can withstand the unblinking eye of super slo-mo.

Some want to severely restrict which plays can be reviewed. Some want a little forgiveness on close calls. Others want to junk it altogether.

Good luck with that.

Traditionalists can rail about the time it takes to play the final two minutes, but what will they say when a call that costs a Super Bowl or Stanley Cup is blown by an all-too-human referee?

In fact, we’re likely headed to more video, as Major League Baseball can only put off replacing human judgment on balls and strikes for so long. Fans want what they want.

Rather than fulminate about the bad press it gets, the NFL needs to make the yard markers and the ball digitalized to measure first downs and scores.

Aim for the finality afforded by tennis’ video line calls, which have removed the uncertainty and the hysterics for much of the sport.

Best for all the leagues to get on it. Now.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes 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 publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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