‘Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.‘ *
Let me set the scene for you.
It’s Tuesday 4th April 2017, and the time is approximately 02:00 GMT.
The game? Oh, only the NCAA National Championship Final, the culmination of a a tournament that ended up being the third most watched in 24 years.**
The teams? Well, Gonzaga had never been to the promised land, but the University of North Carolina (UNC) found themselves in the same predicament a year on, victims of (arguably) the greatest finish to a basketball game in living memory.***
This match-up was two tournaments in the making. Ground-breakers vs Redemption. My laptop on; TV plugged in; stream found. I was ready.
(13847629884720 foul calls later)
What transpired was two of the most tedious hours of stop-start basketball I had watched that season. The final should have been a showcase of basketball’s free-flowing style, but instead, it became an incredibly frustrating game of ‘whodunnit’, with play stopping every few minutes, for a few minutes while referees agonised over slow-mo footage of every barge and fumble. Think Hack-a-Shaq, on steroids.****
To put things into perspective, the number of fouls called (44) almost eclipsed made field goals (46) making for an underwhelming spectacle which failed to get the crowd excited, or the players hot.Gonzaga had their worst shooting performance of the season on the biggest stage (33.9% – 20 of 59), and UNC’s ugly 14.8% three-point success rate was the lowest of all victorious teams throughout the tournament.*****
In one particularly perplexing sequence of play, 7 fouls were called and just 6 points were scored between both teams. How much game time had elapsed?
92, fucking, seconds.
If my calculations are correct, that’s 10 minutes of mind-numbing adverts, and 15 of me looking at my soft pillow asking myself why the hell I bothered with this garbage.
Now I’m all for listening to other mitigating factors such as pressure, chance and defensive excellence, but I’ve played enough competitive games of sport to know that if me and my teammates are feeling particularly
cold hot, the last thing we need is for a referee to continuously pause proceedings, preventing us from getting into a rhythm.
Don’t believe me? Ask future hall-of-famers Lebron James and Dwayne Wade:
James and Wade are not only two of the greatest players ever to step on the hardwood, but leading role models and spokespersons of the game. It speaks volumes about the gravity of the problem at hand, that they felt the need to publicly condemn the product they were watching, even if college hoops slightly differs from the NBA.
I hated it, they hated it, the journalists hated it, and I’m sure the numerous players in foul trouble did too.
The NBA and NCAA are enjoying their greatest golden eras since inception and that is in no small part down to the steps taken in removing human error from the game. However, humans on and off the court should still be able to play, referee and watch with some fluidity, and so I sincerely hope this ordeal of a spectacle is a one-off. Otherwise, unfortunately viewers may look for an alternative that doesn’t boil their blood.
Which brings me to football, and the Premier League (PL) in particular.
The sport has long been compared with basketball for its pace, free-flowing style and aesthetic beauty (I’m looking at you, Barcelona), with the English competition often showcasing the best of what football has to offer.
However, rather than embrace technology, football shunned it for many years, the PL only having introduced goal-line technology in the 2013/2014 season. Despite the speed and accuracy with which Hawk-Eye detects any discrepancies in play, many are still getting used to the change – every goal-line decision is met with a
comedic display of hyperventilation from match commentary, and pointless analysis from pundits.
The general consensus of the traditionalist is that by introducing ‘advanced’ video refereeing, every game of football would descend into the debacle seen on
Monday evening Tuesday morning. The flow of the game would be disrupted, there would be a gazillion minutes of injury time, and vomit-inducing EDM would plague every interval.
Ok, maybe not the last part. But you get my drift.
Some articles have gone so far as to praise football for it’s ‘imperfection’, a point I’m sure Manchester United and Bournemouth fans found hard to appreciate when watching Tyrone Mings and Zlatan Ibrahimovic beat the living daylight out of each other, under the
watchful eye of referee Kevin Friend.******
As I think you can tell by now, I sit on the other side of the fence – these dumfounding decisions have worryingly become part and parcel of the supposed ‘beautiful game’, to the extent where referees are being made celebrities for essentially doing their job correctly.
This is not to belittle the good work that they do, but if Howard Webb can get paid a handsome sum of money to sit in a darkened room, providing analysis of situations that we can all decipher anyway, why not assemble a video technology team to confer with the referee in the PL?
Both sides of the debate in both sports are fully aware of the frustrations and criticisms that surround the current and proposed states of the game in question. Therefore, I propose both basketball and football associations climb said proverbial fence, and plonk both their asses in the middle, for the good of both sports. No doubt it’ll be a tight squeeze, but I think everyone can just about fit.
What do you think? Feel free to retweet, follow, share, and get in touch with your ideas, whether that be for modification of the sports featured, or your experiences of video refereeing in others.
I want to witness greatness, not a sight for sore eyes.
*Dr Wayne W. Dyer, The Power of Intention (sweet quote, I know).
**NCAA figures as of March 27th 2017: 9.8 million viewers on average across all coverage; 88 million live streams (record); 55.3 million engagements across official ‘March Madness’ social media handles.
***The buzzer-beater to end all buzzer-beaters. Seriously, watch the last few minutes of the game via this link – you’re welcome.
****Hack-a-Shaq was a tactic devised by former Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson to deliberately foul Shaquille O’Neal so that he would have to shoot free throws, preventing him from building momentum (Shaq shot a measly 52.7% throughout his career).
*****Stats via ESPN and Sporting News (thanks).
******One such article.
[First image provided courtesy of Sports Illustrated; second image – The Telegraph.]