| Groundhog Day: NHL
Play it again Sam. And Again. And Again.
The NHL has a problem with Video Replay. While it
has been an issue of hot debate over the past 12 - 16 months, video replay has
slowly become a greater part of every NHL game. What started as a way to review
goals, goalie interference, and fix missed calls at the blue line has turned
into a circus show in which coaches are challenging offsides that took place 40
- 60 seconds before a goal was scored, and which have to be viewed from dozens
on angles. Making things worse, in most cases the plays which are overturned
are done so only by slowing the game down to milli-seconds and attempting to
judge whether a skate blade was 1/16 inch, or less, off the ice. The result is
good goals being called back, and the game adjudicated at a speed in which it
was never intended to be dissected. Simply put, reducing the fastest game on
ice to a frame by frame rehash is peering too closely at the wrong thing.
Here's why I say that:
In itself, Video Replay isn't a bad
idea as it can allow egregiously wrong calls to be fixed. That was the intent,
which is a laudable goal. However, the NHL has fallen into the trap that all
major sports find themselves in, and that is when you start down this slippery
slope how do you stop? Part of this is due, in my opinion, to a larger societal
adjustment that is still taking place to technology integrating to the various
parts of our lives. Consider the prevalence of distracted drivers with cell
phones, pedestrians blindly walking into traffic while staring at those same
phones, and the addictive properties that are being discovered in Social Media.
This new technological revolution is infiltrating all aspects of our lives, and
we're still trying to make sense of the brave new world in front of us.
During these transition phases, the common belief often becomes 'newer
is better'. Since we have the ability to do something, then we should! This is
the promotion for Video Replay review in the NHL, and on the surface it sounds
great. After all, who wouldn't want to watch a game in which all the calls were
100% right and there was nothing left to skew the outcome except the
performance of the players on each team? Lest you think hockey alone is
wrestling with this, then consider the debate about computerized strike zones
in baseball, a discussion which is rooted in the same utopian premise.
Except, I don't think this is something we really want in sports. As we are
discovering with every soul sucking delay for replay, one of the great charms
of competition is that it happens in real time. There is something special
about watching spectacular plays as they happen, which is hard to replicate
when we see them continually from every possible angle. Truthfully, most of the
action isn't worth revisiting, which is part of what makes games on tv or
streamed less appealing than attending them live. In person, the focus is on
the moment and the future, while broadcasts tend to dwell on the recent past as
well as the here and now.
But even more importantly is that most sports fans
don't really care if a play was offside by .0003 milliseconds, of if a players'
skate blade came of the ice by 1/16th of an inch as they crossed the blueline.
The game was never meant to be viewed that way, and it certainly is hard to
enjoy it under those auspices. It's even changing the way referee's and
linesmen adjudicate things, which instructions to let the play go another
second before blowing it down, so that replay has a chance to fix any mistakes
that were made. Rather then a tool, Video Replay has become the final
As mentioned above, the cost has been the enjoyment which
comes from enjoying the moment. Human athletic achievement now comes with a
caveat: Was he offside? Did he get both feet down? Did he come off the bag? In
essence, we've become less concerned with celebrating what just happened,
choosing to focus instead on using any miniscule measurement available to
And here in lies the core problem: Video Replay has gone
from a mechanism to fix errors into one that is used to punish opponents. The
coaches challenge, for all the good intentions it might have had, is now one
more way for a coach or team to give themselves a mulligan. No longer does
replay right a wrong, as it has now become a tool to discredit what the other
team has accomplished. Think how often you see an obviously wrong call made in
a game of hockey, and which a challenge corrects? Then recall how many times a
coach only challenges a play because they want to get their team off the hook,
or as a roll-of-the-dice move on the off chance it might rob the opponent of a
So, what's the solution? While there are several possible ways
forward, to me the best one is to simply get rid of the coach's challenge. Yes,
we have the technology, but there is already a strong precedent for deciding
newer isn't better: baseball. We've all known for a long time that aluminum
bats hit the ball further and harder, yet MLB has stringently refused to allow
them in the game for a variety of reasons. However, the game continues to
thrive, despite not adopting the newest and best technology. Hockey could do
the same and simply rely on the judgement of the referees on the ice.
If that doesn't suffice, then why not handle all reviews from a central office.
This would ensure that challenges happened in a more timely fashion, and would
help take the punishment aspect out of the equation.
For those that
would prefer we keep the coaches challenge, then why not tweak it? How about we
say that any offside challenge which takes longer than 30 seconds to adjudicate
fails? If you can't tell from a couple angles, then it's close enough to simply
let it be. Or change the rule to say that clear, incontrovertible, evidence
much be there in order to overturn the call; i.e. stack the deck in favor of
While these may not be the best solutions, perhaps they
can help get the conversation started on how to fix the system. Any and all
ideas should be considered, as this is an issue that effects each and every one
of us. The good news is that we should all have plenty of time to come up with
suggestions, as we wait for the results of the next coach's challenge to be
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