If 2014 in sports was all about trying to “get it right” (to borrow the phrase used repeatedly by the Vikings addressing the Adrian Peterson situation), it feels like in 2015 and beyond we are in for a tougher choice: getting it right vs. getting it right now.
Technology has given us the ability to look at just about every play in virtually every sport from pretty much every angle. We can slow it down, speed it up and flip it to the point that anyone with a decent set of eyes and a TV becomes an amateur referee or umpire — but a pretty good one at that.
If we can see things watching eight replays at home, then trained professionals watching those same replays can get us as close to mistake-free officiating as we want to get. And that’s good because people in 2015 demand quality.
The question, though, is how long we’re willing to wait to get it. There’s a limit on what’s reviewed and reviewable in many sports — most notably the NFL and MLB, we imagine, because the average time of game is already creeping into record territories in both of those leagues. And that’s dangerous because people in 2015 demand efficiency and the ability to fit 48 hours into a 24-hour day.
This is all a long windup for a brief discussion about the biggest play of the wild-card weekend in the NFL — the would-be pass interference flag that was picked up by referees and ruled no penalty in the Dallas/Detroit game. It sparked a Cowboys victory and some conspiracy theories, but let’s focus on the bigger picture.
Pass interference is not a reviewable play under current NFL rules. On one hand, that’s kind of crazy because there are few (if any) other plays in sports that 1) are as hard to officiate and 2) have such an impact on outcomes. I happen to think pass interference should be reviewable because of that.
On the other hand, if you make pass interference reviewable, where do you stop? Should coaches be able to challenge a holding call on an offensive lineman? If we are so concerned about accuracy, should we stop every play to spot the ball correctly?
The point is, this dance between getting it right and getting it right now is delicate. The perfect system isn’t a lightning fast game, nor is it a game that gets every single call right. It means compromise between the two — understanding there needs to be a human element involved to move the game along, but putting in enough reasonable checks to maintain quality and accuracy.