Open Mic: a Structure for Better Officiating in Professional Sports

The Ace ReportCorrespondent IMay 22, 2008

The discovery that Tim Donaghy illegally bet on NBA games he refereed has been a sort of "coming out party" for discouraged fans across the sporting world.

While Donaghy awaits sentencing for his actions, there have been a number of recent events exposing a fatal flaw in officiating professional sports.

Earlier this week, in a New York Mets/New York Yankees game, Carlos Delgado hit a ball deep to left field. The hit was ruled a foul ball by the head umpire Bob Davidson and play resumed, ultimately with the Mets winning 11-2. However, replays showed that the ball hit the ‘foul pole’ and thusly should have been ruled a regulation home run.

Davidson recently apologized for his gaffe, and in this case the ends can justify the means, but his incorrect call has been added to a long list of officiating nightmares.

It is high time that officiating in all professional sports is held accountable to its duty: fairness.

A few years ago, when the NFL debated for what seemed like decades about the inclusion of video replay on questionable plays, there was a significant amount of flack that the NFL took from fans who claimed that the decision detracted from the status quo of football.

More recently, however, fans have jumped the fence and called for nearly every sport to include some form of video replay for such questionable calls. It is the responsibility for professional leagues such the MLB, the NHL, the NBA, and the NFL, to incorporate video replay without hesitation into their contests.

As has been said before here at The Ace Report and elsewhere, the idea of "sport" necessitates fairness and equal opportunity in competition.

By not allowing the officials to be certain of a questionable call through replay, this fairness is eliminated.

In many games, a single play can dramatically alter the outcome of the whole event. To keep the standards of equality for both parties, video replay should be allowed on any disputed call.

Additionally, there is further necessity for instant replay.

When the major professional sports leagues were formed, the majority of spectators "attended" the events by physical presence or through the radio.

Technology did not provide the opportunity to see a play numerous times at various angles to vindicate or convict an official. Nor did the spectators have an option otherwise.

At the time, the games were played under the auspice of being as fair as possible given the conditions and the human condition.

However, at our point in history, technology does provide us the opportunity to get each and every call correct. With each dubious ruling an official makes, there is the possibility to judge it.

Why is this such a difficult decision at which to arrive? If presented with a guarantee of fairness and the possibility for error, it is hoped that the choice is more than slightly clear.

It must be said that there must be limitations on the instant replay system.

Games should not be stopped repeatedly to review calls, thus detracting from an aesthetic flow.

However, it is the opinion of the author that questionable calls are actually less frequent than is assumed by the public. The few large mistakes in officiating have provided a myth that the same situations happen often and are widespread.

It should be at the discretion of the referees themselves to determine at which times instant replay is necessary. They are placed in positions of authority for a reason and officiate games in groups.

Therefore, at any point a questionable call is made and the majority of the officiating crew isn’t sure of the decision, it is at these times instant replay should be consulted.

Clearly, as long as people are capable of making mistakes in life, there will be a question of fairness in officiating in sports.

However, this is why there is a structure for accountability in multiple officials per contest. We may not be able to trust a single referee, but we can have a slightly greater faith in a group of referees under a structure of accountability and modern technology.