Thursday, April 9, 2015

Technologically Enhanced Officiating


The game officials for this week’s NCAA Final are drawing criticism over an inefficient use of video review in awarding a late possession to Duke on a ball that was shown to have been last touched by Blue Devil Justice Winslow.

Of late, ref-bashing has ranked second only to NCAA denigration on the Media Gripe-o-meter – at least since the NFL’s Eddie Haskell-wannabe Commissioner has been able to keep a relatively low profile currently.

On the play in question, it is not at all unreasonable to think that, in real time, six eyes might not get a clear view of the ball and all those fingers. There’s a lot going on out there on that court.

Less conceivable is that those six eyes could not adequately fixate upon a courtside TV monitor to determine the interaction of ball and hands. Is their image less precise than what the Average Joe sees in his home – or what the fans in attendance are provided on video boards? That seems implausible at this point in time and at such a major event. (But an event under the aegis of the NCAA, so yanevano!)

Is it possible that those six eyes were never provided the definitive look? I know the network uses a lot of cameras at an event of this magnitude, but there can’t be that many, can there?

With whom is the lead official communicating on that headset? Just who is it that’s orchestrating those “second looks” – is the TV production crew pulling double duty, or are separate personnel in place to handle those nuts and bolts?

The NBA now manages all in-game video reviews from a centralized facility in New Jersey – someone in Secaucus is on the other end, working pro-actively to provide the crew with the best view of the play. The NHL has been reviewing and verifying every single goal from its fortress in Toronto for years now.

Perfection – especially when it comes to the monumental task of calling good ball well – is a myth. (Never trust the umpire who says, “Haven’t missed one yet!” – and really believes it.)

Sensor- and robotic-technology may ultimately evolve to where they’ll eliminate the human element – indeed maybe the human entirely – from the officiating of our games … at least the most important ones. A computer or hybrid purveyor of Art-Official (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!)Intelligence will interpret all this data instantaneously and render rulings accordingly. (An unintended consequence of this eventuality will be the elimination of the need for flopping.) 

In the meantime, the unintended consequences are more likely to resemble this week’s “growing pain.”