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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
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The Debate on Instant Replay in Sports

It is important for officials to make the correct call, but it shouldn’t interrupt the flow of the game.
Utah+womens+basketball+head+coach+Lynne+Roberts+shouts+at+referee+in+the+game+versus+the+Oregon+Ducks+at+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+11%2C+2024.+%28Photo+by+Mary+Allen+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Mary Allen
Utah women’s basketball head coach Lynne Roberts shouts at referee in the game versus the Oregon Ducks at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. (Photo by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Instant replay is a system used in many sports which allows referees to review video footage to make sure a call is correct. It’s a great thing to have, especially with the technology that is available nowadays. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any controversy. 

Many sports use instant replay, but the most obvious criticisms of it come from football.

Game Length

The most common criticism of instant replay is that it extends game length and interrupts the flow of the game. This can be especially frustrating in cases where the play stands and it feels obvious to viewers that the replay wasn’t needed. In a close game, there isn’t much worse than the officials taking minutes on end to review a play and completely killing the momentum.

Unreviewable Penalties 

Another issue with instant replay in the NFL is that some things just aren’t reviewable. Take, for example, the 2018 NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. With the game tied and under two minutes left, the Saints had the ball inside field goal range. On third down, the referees missed a pass interference penalty on the Rams. This would have given the Saints a first down and allowed them to churn the clock and kick a field goal with very little or no time left.

Instead, they had to kick the field goal with 1:41 to go. This gave the Rams time to go down the field and tie the game, and they eventually won in overtime. Since penalties aren’t reviewable, the referees couldn’t go to instant replay and review the pass interference call.

These two issues of instant replay combat each other. If everything is reviewable, there probably would be more reviews and more stoppages. But at the same time, it’s important to get the calls correct, especially in huge moments like that Rams-Saints game. The reality is there’s no perfect way to use instant replay, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be improved.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay had an interesting idea regarding instant replay. After multiple controversial calls went against the Colts in a close loss to the Cleveland Browns this past season, Irsay took to X, formerly known as Twitter. In a post made after the game, Irsay said, “I believe we need to institute Instant Replay for all calls, including Penalties, in the last two minutes of All Games.” This is an intriguing idea for tackling the previous issues discussed. It would allow the referees to get any call correct in the most important moments without adding reviews at other points in the game. 

Whether the NFL will go through with Irsay’s idea — or a variation — or not remains to be seen, but there is precedent for related situations. After the 2018 Rams-Saints controversy, the NFL made a new rule for the 2019 season that made pass interference penalties reviewable, although this was scrapped after one season due to officials rarely overturning them.

Learning From Other Sports

The NFL ought to consider other sports’ methods in their instant replay system. In the 2022 FIFA World Cup, FIFA used semi-automated offside technology to help ensure the correct calls were made.

“The new technology uses 12 dedicated tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium to track the ball and up to 29 data points of each individual player, 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the pitch. The 29 collected data points include all limbs and extremities that are relevant for making offside calls,” FIFA said in their announcement of this use of technology.

Sensors were placed in the balls to help determine whether a goal was scored while the semi-automated system tracked offsides calls. There isn’t any clear reason why the NFL can’t institute something similar: there are many plays in football where you can’t see the ball from any angle, like quarterback sneaks or dog piles. Instituting technology similar to that used in the FIFA World Cup would help referees make the correct calls, especially in the biggest moments.

 

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@i_dunaway

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About the Contributors
Isaac Dunaway, Sports Writer
Isaac Dunaway is a sports writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. He started this position in October 2021. He is a sophomore at the University of Utah studying communication with an emphasis in journalism. He is also a proud member of the University of Utah Marching Band. He is a native of Salt Lake City.
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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