Support independent, student-run journalism.

Your support helps give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to conduct meaningful reporting on important issues at Stanford. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Jaffe: Time for the right call – technology is good for sports

“The purity of the game.”

What a simple, vague term it is; yet this phrase seems to single-handedly defeat 90 percent of proposed improvements to sports.

It all goes something like this. Some referee or umpire or rulebook does something that infuriates two-thirds of American sports viewers (see Joe Mauer’s “foul ball,” Jay Cutler’s or Tom Brady’s “incomplete pass,” Chris Marinelli’s “clipping,” Lawrence Hill’s “foul” or the 1.76382 trillion other bad calls in sports history). Said sports viewers then spend hours upon hours complaining about the referees and their horrendous calls.

Until recently, this would be the end of the story. No one could do anything about these calls, so the public outcry would eventually die down and everything would go back to normal.

Then a little thing called technology came along and started a new genre of sports controversy. Shockingly enough, computers can do some things better than humans can. Cameras can see things the naked eye cannot. Radical words, I know.

Other people began to think the same crazy thoughts I just expressed and they realized that a large portion of these awful calls could be rectified using this technology. And this is where our little friend “the purity of the game” came into the fray.

Proponents of keeping the purity of the game have a simple goal: to keep sports the way they’ve always been. In some ways, this makes sense. Sports have been the way they are for a reason and many things about sports do not need to be changed. If you need more proof that not all “improvements” actually work, I have three letters for you: XFL.

However, some ideas make more sense than the opening scramble for possession or the removal of the fair catch. People watching televised games discovered that the replays they saw helped them make calls that referees could not make in the heat of the moment. This has led to never-ending discussions over the merits and problems of instant replay in many different sports.

True, instant replay adds delays and is not without its flaws. But the most common refrain in the debate against it is that instant replay ruins the purity of the game. It sounds eloquent and noble, as though allowing human error is “protecting” the game from harm. To me, this is equivalent to the argument that censorship is “protecting” the public from harm, or that banning gay marriage is “protecting” marriage from ruin. In reality, being narrow-minded about technology, just like with political issues, can deprive people of what they need. In this case, people need the right call to be made.

At their core level, referees in any sport (except perhaps the NBA<\p>–<\p>thanks, Tim Donaghy) have a sole purpose: to make the game fair. Why not allow every game to be as fair as possible? If a call is clearly inaccurate, why not let the right call be made? I understand that some people view referees as “part of the game,” but saying that is the same as saying that bad calls are a part of the game. And who wants to fight to keep bad calls in sports?

Technology is complicated and introducing it into sports is a tricky business. How technology is implemented takes a lot of thought and is not as simple as many people believe. But some things are not extraordinarily complicated.

It’s not hard to see problems with the ways sports are refereed. My own mother constantly points out how ridiculous the chains are in football. Think about it, a referee who is often a good twenty yards away from the play completely eyeballs the location of the ball and then arbitrarily sets the ball down somewhere near the play. The “chain gang” then runs across the field and sets down what is assumed to be a 10-yard chain from the spot of the last arbitrarily-spotted first down to see if the latest arbitrary spot goes past the chains. And this process decides Super Bowls! You cannot tell me this is the most accurate way of judging first downs.

This is not to say that all referees do a poor job. Think what a difficult situation they are put into<\p>–<\p>millions of people around the world depend on their instincts and the only tools they get are whistles and sometimes a ten-yard chain. Innovations like instant replay, the first down line and the tennis shot tracker only make games fair.

So what is better, a pure game or a fair game?

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters.
Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.