If I could change anything about college basketball it would be to get rid of video review. That’s would be very selfish of me because most people in the game think it’s necessary, but ever since the first time replay interrupted the finish of a basketball game, I’ve felt this way.
I don’t know when the first time actually was, but the first time I remember a finish being interrupted by an interminable review was a second-round game between Michigan and UCLA in 1993. In that game a consultation to determine how much time to put on the clock after Jimmy King’s tie-breaking basket produced a five minute delay. It wasn’t actually a replay review – those weren’t allowed then for some reason. It was just a huddle with folks at the scorer’s table. Included as a special gift to the viewer was Jim Harrick misunderstanding what constituted a shot clock violation, even though he had coached for the last seven years with it.
It was special enough that the L.A. Times’ Bill Dwyre devoted a few hundred words to a follow-up piece on the review months later because the late-game delay was unusual in those days.
There aren’t too many other members of the anti-replay club. Joe Posnanski wrote the piece that resonated with me the most. His line, “[Replay reviews] take us fans out of the wonderful immediacy of the sports moment” really applies to hoops more than anything. Video reviews don’t just separate the fans from those moments, they take the players out of it, too. The spontaneous game-ending celebration of a buzzer-beater has been taken away by replay requirements.
Replay may be fine for football and baseball where fans are already accustomed to extended periods of dead time. And in hockey and soccer replay is largely limited to goal situations where a natural break exists anyway. Basketball is different because it has continuous motion, frequent scoring and there aren’t normally stoppages after a score, so replay is tremendously intrusive. Coaches can expect to get an extra free timeout or three in the final two minutes of a close game because nearly every out-of-bounds situation and potential timing error is reviewed. This makes the game less entertaining.
But replay is on the verge of hurting basketball even more. In case you missed it: Last Wednesday, Colorado State beat Boise State in double-overtime but the Rams should have lost in single overtime after the Broncos’ James Webb banked in a shot to beat the buzzer. You can relive the shot and subsequent review drama right here.
Watching it at regular speed, it appears like an obviously good shot. Watching it in slow motion, it appears like an obviously good shot. Were this old-timey basketball, Boise State would have been allowed to celebrate an awesome moment and everybody could go home. But the officials are mandated to review the shot. After Webb’s shot went in, there was an immediate few seconds of jubilation followed by five minutes of standing around.
Even had the shot been confirmed at that point, what used to be the best part of college basketball had been stolen from Boise State and its fans. Sure, there would have been additional celebration, but it would have felt more like winning a court case than an athletic event. The immediacy of the moment was gone. There would be no dogpile.
However, the events in Fort Collins went beyond that. In 2016, it’s not a big deal that a lengthy review was needed in a case where simply eyeballing a replay once would have sufficed. But the replay used by officials included a timing device that was running at double the speed of the replay. Thus officials determined it took Webb 1.3 seconds to shoot the ball. And given he released the ball with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock, that meant that by using basic math, the person operating the clock must have started it about 0.9 seconds late. The period was deemed to be over before Webb shot the ball. Anyone watching the broadcast in real time would have found that not credible, but alas, technology.
My beef here isn’t with the bungled call. Errors are to be expected with new technology and this was a mistake that almost surely won’t be made again. Live and learn. Besides, Boise had an extra five minutes to try and win again. Unfortunately, sometimes the ball does lie.
What bothers me is what was being reviewed. Whether a shot was released before the buzzer has always been fair game for the replay lovers. But the crew in Fort Collins was also reviewing whether the clock was *started* on time. The things is, the clock is *never* started on time. The ball touches a player and the clock gets started. There is always some delay between those two events. There has to be.
In this case there was 0.2 seconds between Webb receiving the ball and the clock starting, which I would guess is perfectly normal. But now that’s reviewable. Officials are actually trying to correct for human reaction time. This isn’t the first time that reaction time has been corrected. Whenever officials decided to put time on the clock after the ball passed through the net or when an out-of-bound violation occurred, they were doing the same thing. However, this is different – it was an attempt to correct for reaction time retroactively.
In this case it shouldn’t have mattered. If the replay clock had been synced with the video, Webb’s shot would have counted because it took about 0.6 seconds from the time he touched the ball to when he shot it, safely within the 0.8 seconds he had to shoot. But consider a case where there was 0.6 seconds on the clock to begin with. Webb would have released his shot with 0.2 seconds showing on the clock, but presumably the review would have nullified it because the shot clock operator took a completely-normal 0.2 seconds to start the clock. Regardless of where you stand on replay, this would seem to be a dangerous precedent. Any shot made in the last 0.2 seconds has the potential to be nullified because the clock operator started the clock “late”. In this new world, the buzzer becomes just an estimate as to when the period is over.
I have no idea if this is the start of a trend, but the move was well-received by the broadcast crew on the game. The officials were praised for doing everything they could to get the call right. And given that’s the motivation behind accepting the frequent intrusion of multi-minute reviews near the end the games, I fear there won’t be much objection to this idea, either.
While I dream of a replay-less society (or at least one governed by coach’s challenges), one way replay can clearly be used for good is to correct for obvious timing errors. But it shouldn’t be used for correcting timing errors one cannot notice at normal speed. And regularly correcting for human reaction time, especially in situations where time has already run off the clock, would be an awful development. It’s enough that the spontaneous buzzer-beater has become nearly extinct. But actually taking the buzzer out of the buzzer-beater would hurt the game further.