Change the Game: Watching the watchmen

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
12:45
PM ET
Partially inspired by TrueHoop's excellent HoopIdea series, College Basketball Nation humbly presents Change the Game, a weekly discussion on the game we love and the ways it could be made better. And nothing is off the table.

Look for CtG every Friday for the foreseeable offseason future. To share your thoughts or submit a topic for discussion, reply to me on Twitter, @eamonnbrennan, with the hashtag "#CtG."

Thus far, we've discussed the infuriating block-charge call, the influence of NBA isolation on college basketball and why college basketball needs to wave goodbye to the foul-out. Today: Why it's time to go all-in on monitor review.

Once upon a time, in the halcyon days of the burgeoning sports blogosphere, I did most of my sportswriting about baseball. The best part about writing about baseball (which, let's face it, is a pretty boring game) was that there was always something to debate.

No matter the concern at hand -- whether Alex Rodriguez was "clutch," whether Barry Bonds was the worst person in the history of the world or merely the most steroid-enhanced, whether sabermetrics deserved more mainstream respect (duh), whether bunting was dumb -- the competing sides almost always divided into two wholly distinct and predetermined groups. On one side were the traditionalists, those who romanticized the human side of the game, to say nothing of their poetic approach toward its freshly cut grass. On the other side were the progressives, those thrilled at technology's emerging effect on every aspect of the sport.

As the NFL turned instant replay into an accepted and even competitive part of its behemoth entertainment complex, and baseball began to openly consider the possibilities of replay in its own game, the traditionalists instinctively howled. They warned of a slippery slope, an argument echoed by MLB vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon even after a limited implementation of video replay:
"The beauty of the sport is it does have a human component," Solomon says. "If you go far enough, then why not play with groups of robots or a computer game -- take the human out all together?"

It's like, duh, bro, haven't you ever seen a science fiction movie? The robot PitchFX cameras are coming! They yearn to enslave us, and they won't stop until every call is actually guaranteed to be correct! Oh, the horror!

I didn't buy that argument then -- umpires are merely another outdated analog technology, when you really think about it -- and I don't buy it now.

[+] Enlargeofficials
AP Photo/Nati HarnikCollege basketball could speed up the replay process by using an official to review calls other than the three assigned to officiate the game.
Of course, I would never suggest something so radical for the sport of basketball. But after a couple of seasons of limited college hoops video replay and an otherwise thrilling NBA playoffs slowed by the constant late-game march of officials to the LCD screen on the scorer's table, what I would suggest is this: The sport of basketball, college included, needs to vastly expand and intensely streamline its use of instant replay.

Why? A few reasons.

For one, it's a matter of bringing the live game experience, and the officials' ability to manage it, on par with the experience of watching from home. Fans watch these games in front of mammoth HDTVs, with the benefit of six or seven angles on every close call. Officials take a lot of heat (from yours truly more than most, probably), but we all can agree their already very difficult job is made only more so when judged against six high-def super-slo-mo angles.

More importantly, though, the current replay system's purview -- which allows referees to review whether a field goal was worth two or three points, whether the shot was released in time, whether a clock error occurred and how much time should be on the clock -- is too limited. On Wednesday, when the NCAA released the results of the Playing Rules Oversight Committee's discussions on possible rule changes, it noted the committee had indeed considered the expanded use of video replay in the final minute of a game:
Key in the discussion is whether the last few minutes of a contest merit different treatment. The men’s committee discussed the last minute of the game as a potential area to expand the use of the monitor to get calls right. With the expanded acceptance of technology, the committee will continue to review its appropriate use.

We've seen plenty of examples for why the NCAA should allow expanded review during the final minute, from 2011's St. John's-Rutgers Big East tournament debacle to this season's West Virginia-Syracuse robbery. More replay availability in the final minute of those games (and plenty of other games like them) would have allowed officials to correct incorrect calls. This would be a good thing, obviously.

But why stop there? A bad call is a bad call whether it happens in the first minute or the 20th or the 40th. From a sheer mathematical perspective, every possession matters. So if expanded replay is necessary in the final minute, it's necessary throughout the game, isn't it? No wrong call should go unaddressed, should it?

I can already hear the wailing: But the game already stops too much! College basketball games are already two hours long! No one wants to watch referees look at video replays for 40 minutes! The human element! Loud noises!

I agree! Which is why college hoops and the NBA need to drop the pretense that the only way to handle video review is to force the three assigned game officials to stop the game, walk over to the scorer's table, wait for the LCD screen to load its pretty pictures and spend the next 10 minutes deciding whether they're really seeing what they're seeing. The sport already has a workaround for this; it allows officials to correct live-action missed calls during eventual timeouts and other naturally occurring game stoppages. But why do those three referees need to review the monitor themselves? Why can't a fourth official -- or a team of officials, even -- be assigned to specifically handle video reviews as the action takes place?

The officials watch the action. The video team watches the officials. Live. In real time. As quickly as the announcers can weigh in, and as quickly as you can hammer out that clever tweet slamming the zebras for another bad call, the video team can review said call and almost instantly signal whether there is significant evidence to overturn it. There is no reason to stop the game to do so.

(There might be other ways to do this, such as using the NFL's model of "challenges." I'm eager to hear feedback and thoughts.)

I fully acknowledge that this is not a perfectly formed idea. Basketball is not baseball, a (boring) game that proceeds as a series of discrete yes-or-no inputs. No one wants to slow college basketball down or, god forbid, create even more stoppages in a sport that is at its best when it's free-flowing and fluid. But if those concerns can be weighed and balanced against the hopes of getting every call right in every game -- a noble goal given how much is on the line -- there's no reason expanded video replay can't work.

We have the technology. Now we just have to figure out how to use it.

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