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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

October 31, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Let’s stop football replays and make officials human again

By Jim Jenks

Reader Jim Jenks contributed a piece defending the human element of officials and questioning replays after seeing one too many games brought to standstill.

Officials are human, just like the rest of us.

That’s why I really dislike the replay review of official’s calls in sports, most of all football. It has removed the spontaneity and the human element from the games.

I know this is one call that’s not going to be reversed, but let’s review my arguments for letting officials make the call anyway.

Locally, the recent Washington vs. Stanford game is the most glaring example in a long time. A dramatic, hard-fought contest was essentially decided after a long-delayed and controversial replay review. Everyone – in the crowd, on the field and even those watching on TV – felt a little cheated, no matter which team they favored. I know I did.

We again heard the familiar refrain, “let the game be decided on the field of play,” followed by arguments that the players did decide the game. The review just confirmed that the proper call was made.

But who is included in that field of play? Who are the players?

Everyone would acknowledge that the actions of individual team members and coaches are part of the game and directly influence the outcome. Great plays are applauded and shown on replay. But so are fumbles, dropped passes, missed blocks and penalties. Coaches come up with the perfect play call but just as often make a boneheaded one. They make poor strategic decisions and substitute poorly.

These mistakes are made in the heat of the action by humans trying to do the best they can. They directly impact the game and contribute to its unpredictability and to our enjoyment and anticipation of what may come next. And they are irreversible.

Who would want to watch a game otherwise? Perfection is boring.

So why are the officials treated differently? They are down on the field in uniform actively participating in every play. They have great games and ones they would just as soon forget. Some position themselves perfectly, making a correct call, while next missing a foot out of bounds or the ball touching the turf. As with the players and coaches, these goofs are made in split seconds with the best of intentions.

They also directly impact the game, no more or less than those made by the other on-field participants.

Yet we treat them much differently. Officials must be perfect. No human element here. The game is stopped, momentum disrupted, with everyone standing around wondering what the heck is taking so long. The only ones who are happy are those selling TV commercial time.

Yes, technology has given us the tools to dissect each call, frame by frame. Sometimes, but not always, we get a clear image that allows the perfect call to be made. But at what price?

Football gained its popularity over decades of contests determined on the field of play by people we can all identify with. We may not be able to physically compete, but who hasn’t felt the pain of a fumble or a dumb decision. Who hasn’t left our own field of play, be it at work or at home, wondering if we really made the correct call? We all second-guess ourselves. It’s part of life.

Officials used to be as much a part of this wonderful unpredictable game as the players and coaches. I wish they still were.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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