Saturday Morning Quarterback

Calls are clear from far away
Feb 22, 2014

 

Go to a game during basketball tournament time [or any other sport at any other time for that matter] and you’re sure to hear fans in the stands holler to the referee on the floor how he [or she] missed the call.

In the next breath, he’ll inform the coach on the sideline he [or she] called the wrong play.

I try not to second-guess coaches too much. But I do remember sitting in the Murphy Center stands as an MTSU student thinking Ohio Valley Conference refs were the worst. How could they miss a call which was so obvious from 50 feet away.

And it was even more obvious 100 feet away… or 150. On the top row, what was happening on the floor was clear as glass.

I’ve decided for some time now officials and coaches should leave the playing floor to the players and get as high and as far away as they can. No one ever misses a call from the top row. Bob Uecker figured this out three decades ago in a beer commercial.

So did NASCAR [and Indy and other racing leagues], in which each team has a spotter up top tell his driver what the traffic around him is doing and also inform him of upcoming caution flags caused by a wreck on the other side of the track. Another spotter counts the laps driven by his particular driver.

Football coaches have also long craved the birds-eye view, having stationed assistants in the press box and communicate, first by a wire and then wireless radio.

George Steinbrenner, who as a young man coached football at Purdue University, tried this in his early years as owner of the New York Yankees, dispatching a couple of coaches upstairs and have them communicate with manager Billy Martin in the dugout.

The Dodgers followed suit a few years later with their “eye in the sky”.

It didn’t last long in baseball. Coaches in hockey and basketball may use video shot from on high to study between games, but don’t communicate with the cheap seats [they’re actually quite expensive] during the action.

But leagues are using the high vantage point as an officiating tool. For years, the NFL has given the on-field referee the option of using TV cameras to review certain plays and colleges have followed suit in recent years.

Basketball uses monitors to check for clock situations and to see if a player was standing on the three-point line when shooting. Those don’t actually need a high vantage point.

Most interesting of all is the NHL. Video of disputed calls in that league are reviewed not in the arena where the game is being played, but in a single room full of TV monitors in Toronto. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said before the Super Bowl his league has been studying the NHL system. I saw one story where the NBA and an Australian rugby league are also looking at a centralized replay system. Major League Baseball’s new expanded replay system for this season includes a crew in New York City making the final ruling on challenged calls.

What’s next? Are we going to determine touchdowns or home runs from the International Space Station? If Martians are discovered on Mars, they can be hired to make the final ruling on three-point shots.

In the meantime, I’ll head for home and watch the final days of the Winter Olympics. I’ll have the perfect vantage point – halfway around the world from Sochi, Russia.

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