bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Instant replay should produce better calls, shouldn’t it?

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I have always been a proponent of the use of instant replay in sports officiating. Since the technology exists, it would be a total waste to not take advantage of it in order to get more calls correct. Football is using it extensively, and baseball has been expanding its use over the last couple of years, with more sure to come. Game officials have a very difficult job, despite what you might hear from many fans. It is far easier to make a call when watching on television than to make it from field level at full speed. The thing I just don’t get is how the replay officials manage to get it wrong so often, as they have the advantage of technology that the officials on the field do not have. The two games that meant the most to me this weekend, Penn State against Nebraska and the Philadelphia Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys, each included a call that was massively botched by replay officials.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Penn State was trailing Nebraska by four and had a second and goal from the 4-yard-line of the Cornhuskers. Matt McGloin threw a short pass to tight end Matt Lehman, who turned and headed toward the end zone. Seeing a bunch of defenders all around him, Lehman reached the ball out in front of him in order to break the plane of the end zone, which is all you have to do for a touchdown to be scored. If the tip of the ball crosses the front edge of the white line marking the end zone while in possession of the offensive player, it does not matter what happens after that, it’s a touchdown. Lehman was hit just as this was happening, and he fumbled the ball forward. It was recovered by Nebraska, and the officials signaled a touchback, giving the ‘Huskers the ball at the 20-yard-line. I was watching the play, and my initial thought was that it was a fumble as well. As soon as the first replay was shown in slow-motion, however, it was clear that Lehman still had possession of the ball while holding it fully over the goal line before losing it. I was thrilled, as this was a no-doubt-about-it sort of thing, and the fumble call was certainly going to be overturned. The television announcers were in full agreement as well. Penn State would have the lead with less than nine minutes to go against 16th-ranked Nebraska. Inexplicably, the replay official decided there was not conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field, so the fumble stood. I was absolutely stunned, as were the Penn State players and coaches, and, apparently, the Nebraska coaches and players as well. The Nittany Lions lost the game, and that outcome might well have been different had the person watching the replays seen what seemingly everyone else who watched that replay saw.

This season has been a bad one for the Eagles. Andy Reid, the head coach for the last fourteen seasons, appears very likely to be out of a job at the end of the season, and Michael Vick is certain to be headed elsewhere. I am very ready for both of those things to happen, honestly. Still, I will watch the game every week, and I will continue to root for my team. Late in the 3rd quarter of the loss to the hated Cowboys, Tony Romo threw a pass to receiver Dez Bryant that he seemingly caught in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. It was a very low pass, so I was anxious to see the replay to make sure the ball was actually caught and not trapped. As the play was shown again in slow-motion, it was clear that the ball was touching the ground as Bryant rolled over. I have watched enough football to have seen this exact scenario discussed many times, and the call is always incomplete pass. The FOX announcers clearly felt the call would be overturned, although they were wishy-washy enough in the way they said it that I remarked out loud about their unwillingness to take a stand. They called in Mike Pereira, who is a former head of the NFL officials who now makes appearances during games to weigh in on difficult calls. Pereira showed none of the lack of backbone that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman demonstrated, stating unequivocally that this was an incomplete pass. Despite that certainty, the actual replay official decided the pass was complete and the play stood as called on the field. The Eagles fell apart after that, and although some of that may have come from being deflated by this turn of events, I don’t think they were would have ended up winning anyway.

I think it would have felt better in both cases had I never seen a replay. Bad calls happen all the time, and it is something a fan just has to accept. When there is a clear replay, however, and the rules allow for that replay to be used to correct the call on the field, it is a real travesty when the wrong call manages to win out. In Penn State’s case, I lean toward siding with the conspiracy theorists who feel the Big Ten influences its officials to help outcomes match up with the whims of the league’s leadership. I can’t bring myself to fully embrace that, but the league would certainly prefer to have Nebraska win and improve its ranking rather than having the “disgraced” Penn State program knock them off. In the case of the Eagles, I think that it was just ineptitude by the replay official. I know we were all excited to get the real officials back early in the season after the embarrassment of the replacement refs, but that does not make them actually good. It certainly did not in this case.

Bad sports, continued:

2) There is something bad brewing at Washington State. Star wide receiver Marquess Wilson was suspended last Monday for an unspecified violation of team rules. On Saturday, Wilson quit the team, stating that abusive behavior by head coach Mike Leach and his assistants led to a toxic environment for the team, and that was the reason for his departure. On Sunday, school president Elson Floyd called for a full review of Wilson’s claims. Leach faced similar accusations while coaching Texas Tech a few years ago, and lost his job there because of it.

3) Early last week, South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier was asked if he was going to give his players time off from practice to vote on Tuesday. His reply: “Our players that are 21?” Perfect.

4) There was a scary scene at Auto Club Speedway in California on Thursday. Jake Beckman, an NHRA funny car driver, was about to cross the finish line during his first qualifying run when his car actually exploded. Watch the video. That is absolutely crazy. Even crazier, he was unhurt.

5) The Los Angeles Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown after just five games on Friday. The team was 1-4 in those five games, but I am still shocked at this move. The sample size is so small, and the team is also dealing with injuries. That is some serious impatience.

6) Gimmicks can be great when they work out. When they don’t, they can just seem stupid. Two different college basketball games were scheduled to be played on aircraft carriers on Friday to open the season. Instead, both games were canceled due to weather. This is why basketball is played indoors, fellas.

7) The USC football team was fined this week after a student manager intentionally deflated some of the game balls the Trojans were using during their game against Oregon last week in an attempt to give the team a better grip on the ball. Head coach Lane Kiffin claims to have had no knowledge of this whatsoever. Somehow I don’t believe him.

8) D.J. Hayden, a cornerback for the University of Houston, suffered an extremely scary injury during practice on Tuesday. I am not sure how this happened, but he suffered a tear of the inferior vena cava when he collided with another player. This is nearly always a fatal occurrence, and the fact that he is still alive and recovering is remarkable.

9) NASCAR had a huge mess on its hands on Sunday in Phoenix. First, 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and wrecked, which put quite a damper on the circuit’s hopes for a dramatic finish to the championship next weekend. Next, Jeff Gordon, tired of being run into by Clint Bowyer all season, including in this race, decided to take Bowyer out late in the race, collecting several other cars in the process and leading to an actual fist fight between the drivers and their crews. Finally, NASCAR failed to throw a caution flag during the green-white-checkered finish despite the fact that Danica Patrick was spun during the restart, resulting in some wrecked cars and fluid being dropped on the track. The leaders nearly spun out as they hit the fluid on the final lap, and a bunch of other cars did spin, causing a scary looking pileup involving a bunch of cars. Not exactly the way they drew it up.

Good sports:

1) Golfer Charlie Beljan had a crazy weekend. At the Disney Classic in Florida on Friday, Beljan shot a 64 to lead the tournament. It was not an easy round, however, as Beljan was suffering from panic attacks throughout the round, and was hospitalized because of them that night. The story moved from Bad Sports to Good Sports on Sunday, however, when Beljan completed the weekend on top of the leaderboard for his first win on the PGA Tour.

2) Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and several of his teammates on the Indianapolis Colts shaved their heads this week in support of coach Chuck Pagano, who is undergoing treatment for Leukemia.

Bad sports, good sports appears every Monday

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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