I used to be a staunch supporter of relying only on calls and decisions made by referees and umpires. I preached the importance of the“ human element” in officiating games, whether or not I thought those calls were good or bad. After all, this is the way it’s always been done.
Over the past decade, though, my view on this subject has evolved. We now have access to virtually all games, with numerous camera angles. The use of technology such as Hawkeye, a precision video system used in tennis can track a ball down to millimeters, improving close calls. Some athletes are using equipment sensor technology to help with swing, speed, and form where the data is sent to their smart phones in order to improve their performance.
With the help of such technology, video improvements make watching our favorite sports at home more enjoyable, while at the same time creating a new set of problems. Now that everyone can see plays in slow motion with up close angles, the reliability of naked-eye officiating comes into scrutiny.
For instance, in Major League Baseball, televised games are presented with a “strike zone” box for each batter definitively showing whether or not a pitch is a ball or a strike. Thus, umpires who can’t see the graphic strike box as we do are making bad calls for all to see, and losing their credibility. Frustratingly, fans are even more incensed when those calls effect the outcome of games.
Officials usually do an amazing job with real time calls. However, not all calls can be properly made in real time, but must be evaluated down to the millisecond. With today’s technology, fans expect a close call to be accurate every time, or we vehemently complain about the integrity of the officials, especially when the video evidence is clear.
For example, most people thought the introduction of instant replay would help officials determine the correct call in a close play, such as when the runner’s foot crossed the plate verses when the ball is caught. For the most part it has helped, but when the game slows down as they view instant replay—and in our society of no patience—it’s irritating when we (at home) already know what the correct call should be but it takes the officiating team ten minutes to determine an out.
“Why is it taking them so long to make a decision?” we yell at the television.
Sports leagues continue to tinker with technology in an attempt to improve the game without altering it by taking the “human element” out altogether. Can fans be satisfied with only a partial use of today’s technology and live with it?
I believe we need to use technology to its fullest extent to assist in getting the calls correct and here’s why:
Televised games make the limited-to-no-technology choice impossible simply due to the various camera angles, slow motion and freeze-frame close-ups. Also the luxury of instant replay isn’t going away. So if sports leagues were to decide to remove technology and just rely on the calls as we did 100 years ago, fans will hate it because all the mistakes will be blatantly shown to everyone watching. Fans will lose faith in the officials’ ability to do their job as each bad call is televised.
A friend and I had a discussion on this several years back, and he asked me,“ If baseball was invented today, would we use technology to play the game, or would we use the basis of what the game would have looked like in the 1850’s?”
That got me to thinking. Any new sport invented uses the technology available at the time. While we cling to “that’s how the game has always been played” we seem to lose sight of the fact sports have changed dramatically since their inceptions. We now have increased player size, speed, and strength. In baseball, we now look at spin rate on pitches, launch angle and exit velocity on balls put in play. In basketball, the 3-point shot has taken over the game.
As our athletes have changed, the game has changed, so why not use the technology available?
In the end, everyone just wants the calls to be correct. How we reach that conclusion is up for debate. If we want to enjoy games more, let’s use the technology available so fans can stop complaining about “bad calls.”