Reviewing Instant Replay

Tyronn Lue

Christmas Day always brings exciting games and interesting matchups. This season the NBA did not disappoint. In the rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-92. The game had many highlight moments, but the ending saw several points where the play stopped. This was due to instant replay checks evaluating out of bounds calls and clock management.

However, more of the attention is focused on the few non-foul calls in the last few minutes involving LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The lack of a foul call was accentuated using replay to figure out which player touched the ball last before falling out of bounds. Seeing this play more than twenty times highlighted the amount of time spent on reviewing this play. Which slows down the game and leads into the notion that instant replay needs to be altered.

Reviewing Instant Replay

The current guidelines for instant replay are in-depth but mainly cover out of bounds calls, last-second shots, any time-management issues, and certain block/charge fouls. The use of replay in most scenarios helps the game stay fair for the sake of referees sometimes make mistakes. That’s the human element of the game, people are not perfect, and the calls can only be made if they are clearly seen. However, what ends up happening is down the stretch of a close game the referees can be less confident to make the right call and will second guess. As seen in the Cavaliers and Warriors game, LeBron James drove to the goal and was obviously fouled by Durant early in the drive and possibly fouled on the actual shot attempt. The referee did not call any foul but instead ruled the ball last touched James and was the Warriors ball. This one instance took at least two or three minutes and removed the drama altogether.

Repeal and Replace

Instant replay does have a place in sports. The use of technology to make for a fairer game is an obvious yes. Yet, at times it seems detrimental to the game. One idea would be to remove instant replay completely and use referee judgment to review calls. This would be challenging as people watching on television have better angles in which to yell out the correct call. What would instead happen on a close call would be similar to the NFL where there is a head referee and they ultimately settle the dispute. This head referee isn’t just deciding on a call but considers all the information from different viewpoints and opinions of the other officials. This doesn’t always happen of course as the NFL also uses instant replay to review certain calls. Although this idea of a hierarchy of referees might cause favoritism in the form of coaches or players targeting the head referee.

Rewrite and Remove

The more appealing option is to simply review these guidelines and rewrite a few sections. Without going into specifics of the language in the rules, there are clear choices to either rewrite or remove completely. One point is to remove any instance of reviewing foul calls. The notion here is that foul calls are purely judgmental based on a referee. This isn’t to say that a referee can interpret a foul differently than another, but in some cases, a judgment call must be made. Human error and judgment are apart of sports, so why create the atmosphere of second-guessing when you can enable the referees to be confident in their decision and make the calls they deem appropriate.

Make the Call

The essential element here is that the NBA has confidence in their officiating staff. Instant replay naturally opens the conversation about mistakes and bias. This only creates more rules and regulations into the game to cover the original writing. Don’t look any farther than the NFL’s constantly changing catch rule for proof of this. The NBA needs to avoid that issue wholly and make the scenario simpler rather than more specific. The NBA looks to connect with fans and boost ratings, but overusing replay in the last minute kills that. The Christmas day showdown between Durant and James showed moments of great basketball headed to an exciting finish. Yet, the referees felt the pressure and had to consult the video screen to make the right call. Again, killing the momentum and electricity of the moment.

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