Law in the Internet Society

Searching for the Right Call

The National Basketball Association limits the use of instant replay and computer technology to the final minutes of the game. The British Premier League still does not allow the usage of instant replay to judge onside penalties. The National Football League heavily regulates when and how instant replay may be used, and it comes with a penalty. One is limited in one’s request for reviews, and to be incorrect, comes at the cost of a potentially vital timeout. They tease us. Through advances in technology, the viewer is able to watch replays of the contested situation and is able to make common sense judgments about the accuracy of officiating. Yet, referees are often barred from taking action. Their job—maintaining the credibility of the game—also entails legitimizing its illegitimacies under the false auspices of efficiency and quality.

Despite the premium that sports hold in American society, and across the world, we have still accepted the idea that the accuracy of the game may be tarnished. League commissioners have systematically rebuffed the all-encompassing advancement of technology into the athletic arena. To an indeterminable degree, there are certain aspects of sports that we hold so intrinsic to the nature of the game that we do not want them encroached upon The common question about the implementation of instant replay in soccer has been whether or not instant replay will ruin the flow of the game. We want to be mistake proof, but we do not want to be delay-ridden. Referee inaccuracy has been regarded as a necessary sacrifice to maintain the intrinsic qualities of the sport. National and international athletic bodies have seized upon this cautiousness to justify their consistently half-hearted efforts to modernize the game and to get the calls correct.

In fairness, there is a practical underlying justification for the ubiquitously spoken of, but oft delayed introduction of instant replay into soccer—fear of adjudication. According to Yahoo Sports soccer expert Martin Rogers, “Even though soccer's governing body FIFA has given the green light to two systems that will ascertain whether or not the ball has crossed the line and therefore be awarded as a goal, it immediately acted to protect itself from any financial backlash.” In the same article, FIFA shows it's still leery of instant replay, Rogers notes that the makers of the two systems that FIFA has approved for use must first obtain insurance policies that indemnify FIFA against any legal challenges for compensation in the event that the technology makes erroneous determinations that ultimately decide the result of a match. So while FIFA has proffered the desire to maintain the flow of the match as its primary hesitancy, it has largely factored financial liabilities into the calculus of how and when to implement advanced instant replay technology. It has no reason to be in a rush, FIFA knows fans will be patient or accepting of deficiencies, if not completely forgetful.

FIFA, like the rest of sports’ premier governing bodies recognizes that eventually referee’s errors are normalized and accepted, and that fan protests are without sufficient threat as long technological deficiencies do not completely detract from the game. A flawed Premier League match up, is superior to no premier league match ups at all. So while they offer an improvement in performance, spectator experience and in accuracy, many technological advances are shunned by league administrators. During every labor strike by a professional sports organization’s referees, we witness their replacements rely more on technology to confirm their decisions. The pace of the game slows. Spectators begin to forget the mistakes that the actual officials make, and only recall that they “managed” the game. They did not stand in the way of it. The pace was not ruined. Fans begin to internalize the notion that reliance on their own decision-making in lieu of technology is what propelled these officials to the top of their profession. Their errors and omissions are criticized, but widely accepted by the masses. Overreliance on technology begins to be perceived as negative. But these beliefs ignore the fact that referees that are more competent would be able to use the technology more efficiently because they would have better insight into what to look for, and when to do it. It also ignores that a qualified professional could be hired specifically to overlook the instant replay system. Such instances are not examples of the downside of technology, it represents the negatives of technology under an untrained hand in a situation that requires the greatest expertise. Still, they help to legitimize ownership’s efforts to stall implementing even more technological options.

The lack of a credible threat—a fan boycott, allows sports organization to distribute technological advances at their whim. They do not seriously fear a decline in profits. “People in our sport don’t want any more. Given our attendance and everything we’re doing, we’re in the right place with instant replay,” said Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig during a press conference last July. At best, he is saying that the revenue shows that the fans enjoy the current product just as it is, or implicitly he is hinting to the fact that instant replay, and improved accuracy, matter only to the extent that it will increase the league’s bottom line. Major League Baseball did not feel obliged to overturn the call of veteran umpire Jim Joyce in the summer of 2010 that cost pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Despite the fact that 64% of the respondents to a USA Today\Gallop poll of self-described baseball fans, and Joyce himself, felt that the call should be overturned.

An economic-based approached towards the implementation of available, desired and useful technology is hardly defensible on necessity grounds as sports leagues make record profits. Further, such actions also serve to undermine the credibility of the umpires themselves. “I'm for going as far as they want to go to get it right. I think most people are. And most umpires are, I think. It just lends them more credibility when they get these calls right,” said Baltimore Orioles manager, Buck Showalter. If recent history shows anything, it is that over the course of a 162 game Major League Baseball season, one or two badly decided games may determine postseason participants. Baseball, and sports in general cannot continue to let subjective decisions preside over objective facts when they have the means and public support to do otherwise. The internet has provided alternative means for receiving and viewing sports content in lieu of television. With so much of sports league’s new profits coming from lucrative television contracts, I would implore fans to utilize these other options and to turn off their televisions until sports officials partake on the unencumbering task of implementing readily available instant replay technology. The right call is to establish a credible threat, a call sports fans have been too hesitant to make.


Webs Webs

r3 - 11 May 2013 - 14:14:13 - ZackSharpe
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