By DERON SNYDER
No one is perfect. Not players or coaches, owners or GMs, ushers or vendors.
And certainly not referees.
The chances of every call in every game being correct, are roughly the same as the Browns’ odds of going 16-0. Mistakes will be made, with or without instant replay as an officiating tool.
But few judgments have been as baffling and infuriating as the absurdity in Sunday’s Bills-Patriots game.
Buffalo wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin appeared to make a beautiful catch in the right corner for a 4-yard score in the Bills’ 37-16 loss in New England. He extended for the ball, planted his right foot and toe-dragged his left foot just inside the sideline as he secured control of the ball. The field judge raised both arms. Touchdown!
All scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed, but surely the play would stand as called. The rulebook states that decisions are reversed “only when the referee has clear and obvious visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.”
There was none in this instance, but the play was overturned anyway, leading to righteous indignation from everyone except Patriot fans.
“Replay was developed by this league to correct obvious mistakes,” Bills owner Terry Pegula said Tuesday on WGR 550 AM in Buffalo. “And if you’ve got to look at that play 30 times from five different angles, and keep looking at it and looking at it and looking at it, you go with the call on the field. That’s what the league’s been doing ever since replay started.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but we have to fix it,” he said. “And I’m not saying that as the owner of the Bills. I’m saying that as a football fan. We can’t have stuff like this happening in our league.”
The official explanation was that Benjamin’s toe-drag ended slightly before he secured the catch. That’s really splitting hairs, or more appropriately, blades of Astroturf.
On the same day Pegula took NFL replay to task, the NBA issued it Last Two Minutes Report from the Christmas game between Cleveland and Golden State. According to the LTMR, Kevin Durant got away with three fouls against LeBron James during the contest’s final possessions; two of the no-calls occurred on the same play, a James drive with less than 30 seconds left.
During the broadcast, announcers Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy said Durant clearly committed fouls that weren’t called. I agreed. On the last play in question, officials used replay to determine possession after the ball went out of bounds.
But they’re forbidden from reviewing whether fouls or no-calls were correct, a restriction that drives Van Gundy nuts.
“It’s a fallacy that we want to get the calls right,” he said. “Because the most important ones, fouls or non-fouls, aren’t subject to the replay rules. … If you can’t look at fouls, don’t have replay.”
We hear those suggestions from time to time – “let’s get rid of replay” – when frustration reaches the boiling point, especially after egregious mistakes stand or lengthy reviews bog down the action. The last 1:42 of Cavs-Warriors took 12 minutes of real time, with replays sucking the life out of an exciting finish.
Tinkering and tweaking to make the process better should never end. But as vexing as they can be, replays have a place in sports officiating.
No, Van Gundy, we can’t use them to get every call right. Games would be twice as long. It’s bad enough when play slows to a crawl on seemingly obvious calls. However, when NBA officials go to the monitor for any reason, it’s ridiculous that they can’t correct obvious foul/no-foul calls.
And Pegula is right, too. Finding “clear and obvious visual evidence” shouldn’t be taken as a personal challenge by NFL replay officials. They’re not dissecting the Zapruder film. If super slo-mo and max magnification are necessary to determine the hint of a bad call, let the play stand and keep things moving.
Finding the right formula is difficult, complicated by competing interests. We want the calls to be right, but without constant and lengthy delays. Compromises are inevitable on the types of plays, number of challenges allowed, junctures of the game, etc.
No, we can’t have it all.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Replay opponents say doing without the replay would be fine. Just let the imperfect human beings – athletes and referees – do their jobs and accept whatever happens, mistakes and all.
It’s true that no one is perfect, and we’ll never get 100 percent of the calls correct.
But without replay, 100 percent of bad calls will stand.
There’s no need to settle for that in the 21st century.