NFL Referee Huddle

Is the Use of Sports Review Technology Good for the Game?

Note: Today’s post comes from Allan Calder, a fellow technology enthusiast with an interest in how tech is changing society. After reading through some of Allan’s other work and hearing his ideas for what topics he’d like to explore on this blog, I’m confident that his witty writing style will fit in quite well here, while also bringing a new perspective to the sort of topics that we love to discuss on this blog.

In a recent post we looked at 7 different ways that sports technology is changing the NFL. In this post I want to expand upon that topic a little bit and look at whether or not sports review technology is actually a positive thing. An argument can certainly be made that referees and linesman bring an intangible human quality to the game that simply shouldn’t be replaced. Another problem with introducing review technology into the games we love is that it has the tendency to slow the game down considerably.

Mike Tomlin Challenge Flag
Mike Tomlin layin’ the smackdown

Does Review Technology Slow Down the Game?

The NFL has without a doubt been the pioneer in sports technology, and it’s hard to deny that coach’s challenges have changed the very nature of the game. The question is, is this a good thing? Do these challenges slow down the game? Of course they do, that goes without saying, but do the benefits outweigh the costs? The answer seems to be yes if you look at the topic objectively.

Keeping with the NFL as our example, it’s important to recognize that each coach has a limited number of challenges, and the referees have a finite amount of time in which to make their decisions. Each coach in an NFL game is allowed two challenges, unless both of their challenges are successful, in which case they’re granted a third. In addition, every scoring play is now reviewed and the booth can review plays at will if there’s less than two minutes left in the half. So if both coaches use all of their challenges and we assume an average number of scores per game (five), that’s a maximum of six coaches challenges per game plus five automatic reviews, and a handful of booth reviews when the clock reads less than two minutes (let’s say another four). Add all of that up and you end up with only fifteen reviews total, as a very liberal estimate – most games will likely have far fewer.

You might be thinking yes, but that doesn’t prevent referees from taking forever to make their decisions. Well actually, that isn’t really an issue either – the referee only has 60 seconds to make their decision so it’s not a serious delay at all. You do the math, that’s a maximum of fifteen extra minutes per game – perhaps double that if you count the time it takes the flag to be thrown and the referee to make his way over to the sideline monitor. A maximum of 30 extra minutes per game is not a big deal to make sure they get the right call. After all, during an average (191 minute) game, we put up with 63 minutes of commercials per game and those don’t even come with the benefit of making the game better!

NFL Referee Measurement
Referee trying his best to not get bottles thrown at him in Cleveland

Does Review Technology Remove the Human Element from the Game?

The other main argument against review technology in the NFL, and other major sports, is that it takes the human element out of the game and controversial calls are what make games so memorable. Well there are a lot of things in life that are quite memorable, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that that’s a good thing. Wars are certainly memorable, but that doesn’t mean that anyone likes them or that we want to repeat them. Okay, that may be an extreme example, but you get the point.

Perhaps more importantly, allowing coaches reviews in major sports doesn’t remove the human element at all. Referees are still making the final decision, they’re just doing it with the help of technology to make sure they get the call right. You have to ask yourself, what do you dislike more? Your team being disallowed a goal or a touchdown that clearly should have counted, or having the game delayed a minute or two? It’s a no brainer for most fans. Undoubtedly you want the ref to make the right call, without delaying the game for an extreme amount of time. That’s exactly what you get these days in most major sports.

Every argument has two sides, but when you look at the facts objectively there really isn’t much of an argument against using technology to make sure refs make the right decision. Yes in the NFL the refs can stop the game themselves to review a play during the two minute warning which can add a little more time, but this is still only going to be a couple more minutes. The verdict seems pretty clear – review technology has made our games better, not worse.

Disagree? Let us know why by adding your thoughts to the comments below!

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