Thursday, May 27, 2010

The human element

Carbon, right?

Okay, well that's not exactly what I meant. I was referring to the human element in sports; i.e. the referees/umpires/officials. Why do we have such a desire to keep the human element in sports? I don't understand it. Why do 'people' strive to keep mistakes in a game where they can be removed? Why strive for imperfection? Actually, spelling it out like that, I could see that being a plan in the NBA.

Last night's Celtics - Magic game is a great example. Keep in mind, this is the eastern conference finals. That means, the winner of this series goes on to the championship. It, clearly, does not get much bigger than this. During the course of action, Celtics center Kendrick Perkins picks up two technical fouls and subsequently gets ejected. The problem is that neither T was deserved. The first technical was award after his elbow slipped helping up a teammate and jabbed into an Orlando player. TWEEET! The second happened after a bad call went against him, and he started walking away, in the opposite direction of the official, to vent his frustration on the bad whistle. Well, apparently the ref didn't like Perkins turning his back on him. TWEEET! Perkins got his second technical foul and was ejected. Now if the Celtics would have won with Perkins still in the game is not really relevant. The point is, if someone, anyone, just popped up a quick replay of both plays, especially the first, and saw what had happened, they could have just rescinded the T. It would have taken 45 seconds. We all saw it at home in that amount of time. Why this is not allowed, or even frowned upon, is beyond me. To make matters worse, if these techs aren't reversed on Perkins, he'll be suspended for game six because he hit the too-many-T's-in-one-series threshold.

With baseball, the desire for humans to remain in charge of the most important calls is the most evident. Calling balls and strikes is so simple, that each television station has their own 'K-Zone' that pops up after each pitch to show, technologically and unequivocally whether the pitch was a ball or a strike. We are shown this on the broadcast to prove whether the ump made a good call or not. Why? Why is this not just the way balls and strikes are called? I don't get it. What is the opportunity loss for implementing something that makes many fewer mistakes? Why do we, as a society, have a system that instantaneously shows whether the call being made is wrong, but is not used to correct the call? It would be as if a judge is ready to make a not guilty verdict, but someone comes up to them with DNA evidence proving otherwise, so instead of changing his call, he claims that he 'missed that one.'

The only argument with any validity that 'people' make against removing the human element, is that it will slow down these games too much. But that simply is not true. Viewers at home, and the announcers watching replays can see, often within seconds, that a play was called incorrectly. Why can this not be done as quickly on the field? You'd think by the year 2010, we would be able to communicate a call down to a field in under a minute. Even if it actually had to be yelled down, or passed person to person like the game of telephone, how does that take more than two minutes?

So instead of removing the precise human element from calling sports, we have conference finals games where a player is wrongly ejected. We have baseball games where it is common practice for a manager to come out and yell at the umpire for making a call he disagrees with. This is actually normal, if you can believe it. The sport that clearly moved the most to getting things right is football. Both college and professional football have replays systems that are, for the most part, pretty well used. College football is, in fact, the best. They have an official review every single play that happens, as it happens, just like we do watching a replay. If it is too hard to tell that quickly, he buzzes down and stops play for the ref on the field to check it out. The call is gotten correct, and play continues. This seems like the best system any sport has come up with thus far, unless you count tennis, where the entire court is digitized, so we can see, to the millimeter, whether a ball hit in bounds or not.

So here's hoping football continues to progress towards common sense, and the other major sports get their act together. I would end this by saying something along the lines of "I would rather the game take 10 minutes longer if we would be getting the calls correct," but I don't even see this happening. If anything, baseball especially, would go quicker. Balls and strikes would not ever be argued. Safe and out calls would be correct. There would be no discussions, no meetings of the minds, no managers sprinting out to throw dirt on home plate. We would finally have a game not ruined by those pesky humans.

End transmission.

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