After a missed pass interference penalty in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl, the scope of video review in the NFL has been hotly debated throughout the sports world. And it should be in collegiate athletics as well.
Unreviewable, controversial calls are not just limited to the NFL. They happen in collegiate athletics, including Yale games, all the time.
A missed call in the endzone against Dartmouth handed the Yale football team its lone loss of the 2017 season. A similarly blown call prevented the Yale men’s lacrosse team from beating Maryland in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. In both these cases, the plays would have been easy to review, as the calls hinged on where a player’s foot touched the ground or where a ball landed. But these — and many other missed calls that have gone both for and against Yale athletes over the last few years — were not reviewable.
In the week after the incomplete pass that deprived Yale football of its undefeated season, News columnist Kevin Bendesky ’19 wrote in his column “The humanity of errors” that video review “robs sports of their humanity.” Bendesky, a former athlete and one of Yale’s most avid fans, said that we love sports for their human element. Referees are human and sometimes their mistakes create sports’ most compelling moments, like the grace shown by MLB pitcher Armando Galarraga and the umpire whose blown call deprived Galarraga of an elusive perfect game.
At the time, I agreed with Bendesky. But after watching the Saints game this weekend and thinking more about the missed calls I have witnessed as a Yale fan, I’ve changed my mind. We need more replay in the Ivy League.
Video reviews are good for sports. The Ivy League has made the right decision to institute them in several sports — the change in football came last offseason after the Yale-Dartmouth debacle — and should look to expand them to more sports. Replay is worth the league’s time, energy and funding.
Sports need replay because sports are about perfection. Yale athletes strive for perfection in every aspect of their sports, and they deserve officiating that does so as well. Our athletes practice for over 20 hours a week to be their best — our national champion crew and lacrosse teams would be the first to tell you that good enough does not cut it. They turn to cutting-edge science to seize every advantage in fitness, nutrition and recovery, and their coaches use the latest technology to dissect game film.
Officials should do the same. If our athletes push themselves to the limit with the notion that their sport is “a game of inches,” they deserve to be evaluated by a system that has the power to measure those inches.
As a world-renowned hub for research and innovation, the Ivy League could lead the charge to make video replay faster, more accurate and easier to use. The league is already doing this with football safety, with Dartmouth pioneering the Mobile Virtual Player, a tackling dummy that reduces player-on-player collisions in practice. The Ancient Eight has shown a willingness to be a trailblazer with the rulebook, as it has moved up kickoffs to limit head trauma. It can do the same with replay.
The league’s new partnership with ESPN+ gives it the camera angles to expand replay. One of the most frustrating aspects of the missed call that knocked Yale lacrosse out of the 2015 NCAA Tournament was that within a minute of the play, ESPN had a slow-motion angle that clearly showed the ball crossing the goal line. Video reviews also do not have to be complicated, and, for some sports, could be as simple as hiring an extra official to monitor the video feed.
For those who say that missed calls create valuable learning experiences for players or special moments of grace and humanity, I respond that sports are about winning. If sports were just about learning to be a good sport when you lose, we would expect coaches to intentionally throw games. A quick look around the sporting world will tell us that that’s absurd. Football coach Herm Edwards famously said “You play to win the game,” and Ricky Bobby told us that “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Although some people say that video reviews would make games painfully long, accuracy is worth the wait to get the call correct. Plus, reviews let you grab another beer from the fridge or sing another round of “Sweet Caroline” at the ballpark. Just this past Friday, a video review at the Yale men’s hockey game — which overturned a Clarkson goal — gave the Yale students behind the Clarkson net an extra 60 seconds to heckle the Golden Knights’ goalie.
When MLB introduced expanded replay in 2014, purists lamented that it would ruin baseball. It didn’t. Neither will it ruin the NFL or the Ivy League.
Matthew Mister | firstname.lastname@example.org