Instant replay in collegiate and NFL football has outlived its shelf life. Originally proposed as a more accurate way of providing certainty on close calls, it has followed the pattern of many well-meaning advances and produced unintended negative consequences. Watching football last weekend illustrated how the replay system has taken spontaneity and rhythm away from broadcasts and replaced it with endless, deadening delay.
Let's not confuse the play on a football field and how it is officiated with the absolute certainty of science or math. Officials use their own judgment in many situations that are not reviewable. A ball is spotted by referees with a great deal of discretion -- then a measurement ensues as if the initial spot was accurate. All sports rely on official's judgments. Mistaken calls have always been part of the game. They even out over time. Watching the coaches dispute these calls has always been an entertaining part of the game.
The most exciting play in football is a player scoring a touchdown. The spectators are thrilled and cheer their hearts in the stadium and at home. Now that spontaneous reaction is problematic. Was it really a touchdown -- no one knows until a long review. The play gets separated from reaction to it. The truth is that even with all the technical advances in filming -- there often is nothing conclusive to look at. We all seen plays upheld where the replay booth is simply mistaken. An electrifying play is followed by dead time. The spectators in the stands sit with nothing to do, fans at home watch one more commercial. Seconds drag on like minutes and minutes seem like hours.
The NFL worked hard to compress games into three hours. They shortened half-time, changed the time between plays. Rooting for an exciting play that is then wiped out by penalty is already injecting delay and lack of certainty. The endless delay of the replay breaks the rhythm once again. Momentum plays a large part in the excitement of football. The scoring team has to surrender the ball to the opposition on a kickoff, and commercials slow down the energy surge. Along comes replay to insure a long rest for defenses.
The marriage of football and television exalted the popularity of the game. Now a non-action segment is irregularly inserted to slow the action down. Football survived for many years with the occasional blown call. Keeping the games moving and exciting is easier without instant replay.