Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thoughts on Optics, Replay, and Romanticism

Okay, so here it is. That's a touchdown in my book, by my eyes, every day that ends in a "y".

That didn't prevent, however, many of you (no doubt) Wisconsin fans from plaintively whining and begging for it to be otherwise. The common refrains I saw on Twitter were.... among others...

"It wasn't conclusive enough to overturn the call on the field!"
"You can't see the ball clearly!"
"Those camera angles are right on the goal line!"

Of course the camera angle isn't dead 90 degrees square, but that doesn't matter. As long as you draw the goal line at the same angle as it appears, then everything else is relative. It would only matter, if you DID draw a 90 degree line and say "see, the ball is outside!"

In this shot (and others) the play is a touchdown whether you apply the "least generous" portion of the goal line as it appears (the lower, nearest part) or the most generous (the upper, by the pylon). In fact, if the football were actually #53's shoulder #53, then it is STILL a touchdown, because only the prickly point of the football need scratch the front (leading) edge of the 6" painted white goal line.

But whatever. I can't be 1000% certain (because there is no such thing as 1000%) that brown blob is ACTUALLY the football, and not something else, but for the sake of getting the call right, I can accept that brown blob as "the ball."

The larger complaint seemed to center on the phraseology that overturned calls must have "conclusive" or "indisputable" evidence to the call on the field.

This wording has always been problematic in replay, college or pro. Here's why.

1. There is virtually nothing in the universe that is "indisputable." People dispute some of the most obvious and widely accepted things. (e.g. Chris Berman is a talentless ape).

2. The premise that the instant call on the field, made in real time, by officials who may, or may not, be in correct position deserves primacy over the subsequent replay determination.

This is absurd.

What the wording of the replay rule SHOULD read, is as follows. "The play on the field shall stand, if the video evidence is of no assistance in clarifying the call."

A video replay, of a ball completely obscured by bodies, is of no assistance and as such, you must revert to the call on the field. But nowadays, with HD and multiple angles, this is almost never the case.

When there is video evidence of a call, it is ALWAYS more accurate and reliable than a call on the field.


How? Because the human eye cannot freeze frame a single moment at 1/30th of a second and gaze at that frame for as long as it likes. The human brain cannot synthesize 3 different camera angles of a play in real time, and make that call within 5 seconds of the play ending.

Video replays are (almost) always more accurate than calls on the field in the same way that an x-ray is more accurate than a doctor just feeling your innards with his hands.

What some fans are really saying when they plead that this play lacked "sufficient" evidence to overturn a call on the field, is that they want the more "romanticized" notion of officiating to decide such a taut, highly entertaining football game.

The "old school" notion of "quick, was he in or out" referee call that we all grew up with.

Those calls were often wrong, but alas, never in doubt. They were made and you just had to live with the injustice. To some, I'm sure, this application of scientific, forensic officiating "justice" just didn't seem right. Too clinical. Too technical.

Yes, to the naked eye, the play looked like a "not-quite" touchdown. In the old days, it would have stood as such. And in crummy 480p standard definition, with only 1 reliable camera angle, it might not have even looked like a TD upon the dreaded "further review."

But not in 2011, with HD cameras all over the place. He's in. You can't drink him back to the 1 yard line, Badger fans, even though you are welcome to try.

I would be fine with going back to the more "romantic" method of officiating. I think replay still gets plenty of stuff wrong (Jerome Boger missed a no-brainer of an incomplete pass in my Redskins game, even after staring at it in the booth) and the time it takes is just sucking... the... life... out... of... games.

Replay can't be used on some of the most egregious calls that change games (pass interference, holding) and as such it doesn't really deliver a perfectly officiated game.

I think it moves the needle from 98% accurate, to 99% accurate and that's just not worth it, in my mind.

Finally, there's a real sticky situation that hasn't happened yet, but may some day soon. Say this play had been ruled a TD, and yet the video showed clearly that MSU's player was stopped short. Let's also say it would have ENDED the game, and not just sent it to overtime.

Well, then. What referee has the stones to take that score off the board, duck the debris from the natives on the way to the tunnel, and hope not to star in a real life version of the Allstate Insurance mayhem series "fleeing referee" commercial?

You would hope, every ref would. But I can't be so sure.


  1. You're last case of the score being taken off the board has happened...this college football. Please see the case of Miami vs. Kansas State. Game winning score called a TD on the field, pulled off the board upon further review. My poor Canes lost a heart breaker, but (and I won't admit it in person) it was the right call.

  2. The Mayhem ads are as good as it gets and make up for all the horrendously lame beer and cell phone ads that we are forced to sit through during college and pro games.

  3. The so-called "Immaculate Reception" only stood because the police said they couldn't guarantee the security of the officials if they reversed the call. You can look it up! The ball bounced off of "Frenchy" Fuqua into Harris' hands, which was illegal at the time (the ball could not deflect from one teammate to another), and the refs knew it.

  4. Thanks for a clear pic Czabe. I didn't think the replays showed conclusive evidence on Saturday night. Or maybe I was just too liquored up.

  5. As a proud Badger fan, I admit I wanted it to go to replay. When I saw the replay, I knew he was in. Was still hoping that the ref would find it inconclusive. When they announced it was a TD, it sucked, but I accepted it.

    So am I a whiner? If not, who are these whiners you're referencing? I think most Badger fans felt the same way.

    I'm more pissed about our blocking on the blocked kick. That should never have happened and that was the game, right there.

  6. Allstate has a great ad campaign.

    Watched the play live between State and "Scony" happens as O J says.

    Like all other last second touchdowns it will be lore and everyone in "Sparty-land" will say I was there!