NCAA Tournament Instant Replay and Inconsistent Officiating

Posted on March 17, 2012 | in Basketball, Defects, Sports | by

In Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament action, history was nearly made with a 16 seed almost knocking off a 1 seed for the first time ever. With the assistance of some questionable officiating, top-seeded Syracuse emerged from the rubble as the victor over 16-seed UNC-Asheville.

The two questionable calls were, first, a lane violation by a UNC-Asheville player on a missed free throw by a Syracuse player that gave him a second chance to shoot the free throw (which he made), and second, the officials incorrectly judging a UNC-Asheville player deflecting the ball out of bounds when it was the Syracuse player that did so.

This isn’t to rehash the correctness of either of these calls, but it is certainly true that human error plays into games’ outcomes and the mistakes are magnified during the NCAA Tournament, especially in potentially-historic games like this one.

My question is about determining what is more important: the purity/honesty/human side of not using instant replay or making sure the calls are correct.

More and more we’re seeing instant replay used in sports – first used extensively in football, then scoring plays in hockey, and now with home run calls in baseball – but not so much in basketball, except for verifying time remaining in a period or some specifically-chosen judgment calls. Why? Because it’s important to get the calls correct.

But why not get all of the calls correct and use instant replay continuously?

It certainly appears that sports is heading in that direction. As I alluded to Thursday, why wait to get to the “ideal state” that I presume to be continuous instant replay and just get there now?

Some of the pushback stems from instant replay taking too much time and making the game drag on longer than it should. Only in baseball is the length of the game constantly criticized, because baseball has no time limit. Other sports are rigorously timed with concrete starting and stopping points. Football sees use of instant replay heavily and the NFL uses statistical measurements of how often it’s used, how often calls are overturned (quality of officiating), and how long the replay checks last (and how they impact game length).

Another piece of pushback is that it takes power away from the officiating crew. Well, so what? Games aren’t played so officials have something to do with their spare time – why not make sure calls are being made accurately, especially during critical game situations?

And yet more pushback comes from the picking apart of what should and should NOT be reviewed, providing more excuses for not implementing instant replay. Governing bodies can’t reach consensus? Fine – we’ll just implement nothing at all.

If the ideal state for basketball accuracy is the full use of instant replay, why not just do it now?

Side note: another episode of the questionable lane violation happened again Friday night during the Notre Dame-Xavier tournament game, and this call was even later in the game – the last ten seconds. A lane violation call prevented Notre Dame from shooting two potentially game-tying free throws at the end. A lane violation judgment call that is very rarely ever called is all of a sudden called twice in two days.

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