BENNER: Blown calls aren't a tradition worth preserving

July 3, 2010

See, if there was instant replay for column-writing, I—or my replay official—could have used it last week and, upon further review, noted that I had Puerto Rico (should have been Portugal) applying a 7-0 whipping to the wrong Korea (it was North, not South) in group play of the World Cup soccer tournament.

Ah, but no such luck, and my error made it into print. My apologies.

Fortunately, my mistake did not affect the outcome of last week’s edition of IBJ. It still was an overall triumph of good journalism, my gaffe notwithstanding.

Not so fortunate has been the World Cup itself. As I explained the previous week, I’m not savvy enough about the sport’s nuances to argue with some of the blown calls that have marred the event.

But I do know this. When the ball crosses the goal line within the confines of the net, it’s a goal.

In the World Cup, England had a goal disallowed because the official didn’t see what the television cameras did. It arguably caused England to lose its match against Germany. The same day, Argentina scored a goal against Mexico that should have been disallowed. It, too, was a deciding factor in the outcome.

Team USA, of course, also had its difficulties with the officiating where replay could have corrected errant calls.

Soccer’s international governing body, FIFA (does one of those F’s stand for “fools”?), initially responded by saying that not only would instant replay not be used, but that it would bar the showing of controversial replays on stadium video screens. However, after receiving withering criticism, the FIFA president finally relented and said replay was something it might consider for future competitions.

Soccer, of course, is not alone in its death-grip hold on choosing tradition over technology. Last month, Detroit pitcher Armando Gallaraga’s bid for a perfect game was ruined when umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base that would have been the 27th and final out. Joyce quickly admitted his mistake and Gallaraga’s gallant forgiveness of Joyce will last forever as a tribute to sportsmanship.

Commissioner Bud Selig could have done the absolutely right thing the next day, reversing the call. After all, this didn’t affect the outcome of the game, only Gallaraga’s place in baseball history. Selig declined, however, and baseball purists applauded his no-decision decision in maintaining the integrity of the game.

What arrogance for a game that’s given us the designated hitter and, yes, the steroid era.

And baseball officials certainly can’t be worried that use of replay would slow down a game that already proceeds at a crawl. All baseball would have to do (and soccer, for that matter) is limit the number of challenges, as the NFL does.

Indeed, part of the in-game experience now is fans debating among themselves whether a call will be upheld or over-ruled.

Tradition-bound tennis employs technology—a system called Hawk Eye—to resolve disputed line calls at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The most rules-bound game, golf, will on occasion turn to television to determine penalties. Many still recall Craig Stadler’s kneeling down on a towel in order to not soil his pants while hitting an awkward shot. TV viewers instantly noted that Stadler was in violation of a rule that prevents a golfer from “building a stance” and notified PGA officials on site. Stadler was assessed a two-stroke penalty and disqualified the next day.

Now I’m not saying instant replay is the be-all end-all. Baseball, for example, does not need technology determining balls and strikes. Basketball shouldn’t use replay to resolve the block-charge call. Football does not need replay to adjudicate holding (although in the case of the Indianapolis Colts’ Dwight Freeney, who is held on nearly every play, I might be for it).

And replay can be used wrongly: case in point, the Big Ten replay official who overturned a call that was correct on the field during last year’s Indiana-Iowa game (no, I’m still not over it).

We humans err (as I did last week) and athletes screw up over the course of a competition far more than officials do. But when glaring, outcome- or history-altering gaffes can be almost immediately rectified, why wouldn’t anyone want to get it right?

It is 2010, after all. You know, the year Portugal clobbered North Korea in the World Cup.•


Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Reach him at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.


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