In­stant re­play a game changer, not in a good way

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - JEFF JA­COBS

I never felt sor­rier for an ath­lete than I did for LeBron James in the mo­ments fol­low­ing Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals. The man had scored 51 points, car­ried an in­fe­rior team to a su­pe­rior po­si­tion, given def­i­ni­tion to the word peer­less — and yes, peer­less in­cludes Michael Jor­dan.

Yet there James stood, the vic­tim of team­mate J. R. Smith, one of the more flawed hu­mans in pro­fes­sional sports, and the vic­tim of the ar­bi­trary im­ple­men­ta­tion of video re­play, sup­pos­edly per­fect sci­ence that has had the un­in­tend- ed ef­fect of chang­ing out­comes of en­tire sea­sons with im­per­fect re­sults.

I saw on Face­book on Satur­day that my friend Matt Ea­gan, a sports writer turned lawyer, turned 50. In wish­ing him happy birth­day, I felt com­pelled to tell him he was right 20

years ago. He ar­gued that try­ing to find re­play per­fec­tion in sports played by and of­fi­ci­ated by hu­mans was a fool’s er­rand. He ar­gued the hu­man el­e­ment is what makes sports great.

I ar­gued that with tech­nol­ogy avail­able it would be un­fair not to re­verse in­dis­putable. What I should have done was re­call the scene from “Back to the Fu­ture” when Marty McFly looks down at a fam­ily pho­to­graph and sees that ac­tions that he had just been in­volved in had the un­in­tended con­se­quences of al­ter­ing fu­ture re­al­ity.

Re­mem­ber Marty see­ing his brother’s head miss­ing?

Spon­tane­ity is one of the great beau­ties of sports. To sit there through min­utes of re­views in a highly emo­tional, cli­mac­tic si­t­u­a­tion runs con­trary to the joys of the fan ex­pe­ri­ence. Yet it if guar­an­teed not only the right call but the fairest over­all out­come, de­lays would be worth the wait.

By the se­lec­tive use of in­stant re­play, how­ever — whether it be through which sit­u­a­tions can be re­viewed at what times or how many chal­lenges a team may make in a game — fi­nal re­sults are al­tered in a much- lessthan- fool­proof way. For the bet­ter? Prob­a­bly more times than not, but cer­tainly nowhere close to per­fect.

And that’s the point.

If it’s not fool­proof, is play­ing the lessthan- om­ni­scient re­play god ar­ti­fi­cially and ul­ti­mately un­fair to the great hu­man el­e­ment of ath­let­ics?

Let’s re­turn to Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals. Af­ter re­bound­ing Ge­orge Hill’s missed free throw with 4.7 sec­onds left and the game tied, Smith in­ex­pli­ca­bly pulled the ball out near mid­court. Coach Ty Lue said Smith thought the Cavs were ahead one. Smith said he knew the game was tied. Truth: J. R. is only 50- 50 to know what day of the week it is.

By los­ing in over­time, the Cavs, over­matched by the War­riors in nearly ev­ery way, are essen­tially cooked. This was their chance.

Sure, there have been ath­letes wor­thier of our pity. Peo­ple score into their own goals. Peo­ple get in­jured in aw­ful ways. Hey, I pity J. R. Smith for be­ing a rock head. Yet when I talk about ath­letic sor­row for LeBron I mean it in a way that no­body ever de­served a vic­tory in a big­ger mo­ment. He pro­duced a game for the ages and he got robbed by his team­mate and, yes, by a ridicu­lously un­fair NBA re­play system. No amount of re­joic­ing at LeBron’s ex­pense in this ugly 21st- cen­tury so­cial me­dia world can change that.

With 36 sec­onds left. James stepped in front of a Kevin Du­rant drive. A charge by Du­rant was quickly called by crew chief Ken Mauer. Tony Broth­ers seemed to have an op­pos­ing view. The NBA has a rule where in the fi­nal two min­utes, of­fi­cials can over­turn a charge/ block call, but the re­view must be trig­gered by an in­de­ci­sion over whether the de­fender was in the re­stricted area.

LeBron was at least 2 feet out­side the re­stricted area. It was bo­gus and prob­a­bly gut­less to go to the re­view.

The charge call may be the most dif­fi­cult in all sports. LeBron had es­tab­lished po­si­tion and, yes, he also turned his left shoul­der. Af­ter watch­ing it 15 times, I’ll say it was 50- 50. I am 100 per­cent sure no such sub­jec­tive call should be re­viewed there. Not when there are 20 such calls ev­ery game.

In­stead of two points up and the Cavs with the ball to close it out, Du­rant went to the line for two to tie. The play only meant every­thing.

A day later, the NBA re­vealed that postgame anal­y­sis showed the War­riors’ Dray­mond Green com­mit­ted a lane vi­o­la­tion be­fore Hill re­leased the foul shot he missed. Hill should have been re­warded an­other free throw. The NBA also said Green should have been charged with a foul with 12 sec­onds left for grab­bing LeBron’s arm. That play came be­fore Klay Thomp­son fouled Hill and would have put LeBron on the line. Great. Un­en­force­able trans­parency.

There are hun­dreds of plays in a bas­ket­ball game and to get re­plays in­volved in sub­jec­tive calls is stupid and to get in­volved in ar­guably the most dif­fi­cult call in all of sports — charge vs. block — when the cham­pi­onship is on the line is id­i­otic.

The NBA should change that rule im­me­di­ately.

Now, let’s look at the De­cem­ber NFL game be­tween the Steel­ers and Pa­tri­ots. Jesse James caught a Ben Roeth­lis­berger pass, stretched over the goal line and scored the go- ahead 10- yard touch­down pass with 28 sec­onds left. The an­nounc­ers on var­i­ous out­lets all had it as a touch­down. The of­fi­cials raised their arms.

Only it wasn’t a touch­down. That’s be­cause of the NFL’s stupid rule that stip­u­lated the catch did not “sur­vive the ground.” Ob­vi­ously, James caught it and made a foot­ball play to stretch over the plane of the goal line. And yes, the ball jig­gled when it hit the ground.

Video re­play showed it. Video re­play it­self wasn’t the prob­lem. Us­ing it to con­firm a stupid rule no­body could de­ter­mine with the naked eye and would have been a touch­down at any other level and any other era was the prob­lem. Mi­cro­manag­ing in pur­suit of per­fec­tion? A fool’s er­rand.

The call made the Pa­tri­ots the No. 1 seed in the AFC play­offs and dropped the Steel­ers to No. 2. The rule be­came such an in­cen­di­ary topic that even Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell ex­pressed con­cern be­fore the Su­per Bowl. And wouldn’t you know it?

Two vi­tal Ea­gles touch­downs, which may well have been over­turned in the reg­u­lar sea­son, were ruled good in the breath­tak­ing vic­tory over the Pa­tri­ots. Al Riveron, NFL se­nior vice pres­i­dent of of­fi­ci­at­ing, later re­vealed the plays were ruled “dif­fer­ently” than in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The NFL com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee did change the rule in the off­sea­son, but the league had se­cretly al­tered the rule on the fly in the play­offs.

Maybe we will find a per­fect com­pro­mise some­day, but let’s not lie. Tech­nol­ogy is al­ter­ing out­comes, some­times in sea­son­al­ter­ing ways, some­times not for the bet­ter. The fewer re­plays the bet­ter.

Oh, the hu­man­ity.

Mar­cio Jose Sanchez / As­so­ci­ated Press

War­riors for­ward Kevin Du­rant ( 35) re­acts to a call while stand­ing over Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James dur­ing Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals on Thurs­day.

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