I’ve read with some interest recent posts on this website and others advocating some form of instant replay or goal line technology. Being an American with some understanding of the troubles instant replay has had in some American sporting leagues, I very openly and bluntly say, keep replay out of football.
Football is a unique game. It has won the world over largely due to its simplicity and constant flow. Football is a game which is complete in a two hour window and which like a movie or show does not stop except in a single intermission. Unlike the peculiar sporting culture in the United States which has accepted replay because American sports have a stop/start/stop/start flow, or lack of flow, replay could destroy the very thing that has made football so compelling. Even within the peculiar American sporting culture, instant replay has been less that stellar in its implementation and affect.
Replay’s history in the National (American) Football League is troubled. I will admit I have not watched a complete NFL match in over two years, but from 1981 through the early part of this decade I watched NFL every weekend. When Instant Replay was approved for 1986 season I recall the very first game involving the reigning Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears (against Cleveland if I recall correctly) had numerous problems with the replay system. Within a few years replays were such a detriment that broke up the flow of the game. After a few seasons it was shelved until around 1998 or so when it reappeared in a modified form. NFL owners needed assurances that replay would work better before bringing it back. Even with the modified replay system, more often than not blown calls are not reversed. Part of the reason the NFL lost my interest was the destruction of the flow of an already long slow game by the constant use of replays to review controversial calls. Replay also consistently breaks the momentum of the team who is controlling the action at the moment. In a possession oriented game like football which unlike many American sports can turn in an instant, the stifling of momentum can be deadly.
College (American) Football, a sport that has more of an emotional connection to its fans than professional (American) Football, began experimenting with replay a few years back on a conference by conference basis (think of College Football’s governing body the NCAA as UEFA and each conference as a domestic league.). Eventually in 2006, use of instant replay became universal in NCAA Football.
For a fan like myself who spends at least seven Saturday’s every fall in College Football stadiums, the change in rules has been disastrous. Not only have already long games become longer, but no limit exists on replays and more often than not if a call is controversial, the replay is determined to be inconclusive and the blown call is not corrected. What’s worse is in inter-conference match ups the field officials and the replay officials are often times from different leagues, leading to confusion. Now I realize the NFL has built in some safeguards against the problems replay has in the NCAA but it is still a nuisance when everything is said and done.
In College Basketball and the NBA replay has been used sparingly, to determine a game deciding shot relative to the clock. However, when replay has been used in College Basketball to determine whether a shooter was in front of or behind the three point line, I’ve heard snickers in the crowd about the length of time it takes to make these decisions and how much it affects the flow and momentum of the game. Considering Basketball is like American Football a game that starts and stops every few minutes, can you imagine what crowds in a nonstop frenzied atmosphere of an English Football ground will think about the time it takes the officials to sort out the replays.
If American Football, a slow game which tests the normal attention span of a human being is made even longer and dare I say in many cases more intolerably boring by replay, what happens to Football, a world sport whose very popularity is due as I stated above to its simplicity and quickness? In addition American sports as I have complained about in the past change and quite frankly manipulate their rules quite often to get a desired outcome. The NFL, NBA and other professional leagues in the TV and money driven American sports culture have changed its codified rules for one reason or another through the years. (One real infamous rules change in my opinion was when the NFL seemingly tired of the workmanlike New England Patriots beating the glamorous Indianapolis Colts of Peyton Manning, made it more difficult for defensive backs to use their hands to defend wide receivers. Patriot DBs Asante Samual and Ty Law had made a living outr of jamming the Colts receivers on pass patterns.) Football on the other hand has had fairly consistent rules and tactics for years now. Sure like all other sports rules and tactics evolve with the time, but unlike the sports invented by Americans, Football has been wildy successful as is. While the temptation to mess with a successful formula exists because of the many missed calls by officials, American sports teach us replay is far from perfect. Often times instant replay changes games not because of overturned calls but because the flow and momentum of the game are almost always affected due to the length it takes to view the replays. In football this would be a colassal mistake.