The Futility of Policy

If you are fan of anything sportsing, you know the anxiety of blown officiating calls, but lately, the agony of video replay has become unbearable, a system which satisfies only a vocal party within the sportsing community affectionately known as the “Get It Right Crowd” (GIRC). These nerds will rest at nothing to establish a policy or series of policies or layers of policies to somehow ensure sportsing fans that the sportsing officiating calls are regulated and correct, and corrected if they are not correct on the field.

The GIRC has at least accomplished hours and hours of interesting philoso-talk on Local Sports Talk Radio. Alas, the assumption is that officiating calls are always correctable.

In the sportsing called “The NFL” there is a boiling controversy over the application of the definition of a “football catch.” Now, to the casual observer, this may seem like a no-brainer. To wit: a receiver “catches” the “football.” That is a football catch.

But, no.  The policy, or “rulebook,” as it were, has a strict definition of what a “football catch” might actually be. It is a lengthy definition, with a main paragraph and many sub-paragraphs, each of which deal in minutiae, and each of which must be memorized by game officials, and which, in the rigors of a contact sportsing event, must be expertly and thoroughly applied at an instant.

Therefore, it has come to be expected that game officials apply the policy incorrectly. After all, they’re only human, and, in the NFL, they’re quasi-professional. Many millions of dollars hang on their competence, both in player salaries and in gambling money.

To resolve this given human propensity to actually err, a video replay system has been devised. It seems easy enough: if there is a question about the application of the policy, one simply projects a video of the play in question onto a large-screen, high-definition television set, and everyone has the luxury of studying the question from very many different angles at different speeds with as many repetitions as is desired, that is, until the officiating crew is satisfied that they have, indeed, the right application of the policy to the play in question.

In practice, however, there has been very little satisfaction within the sportsing community concerning this system to regulate and correct application of policy. The officials are making worse applications in the instant, and they are increasingly unable to correct themselves with video replay. So far, recriminations have flown against incompetence in officiating as a quasi-profession, but the same phenomenon is occurring in sportsing where the officials are full-time professionals. Recriminations have also flown against the video replay system, but the only solution there seems to include outrageous complexity, which everyone, even The GIRC, recognizes as detrimental to the playing of the game.

In my opinion, which I will label “obviously,” it is the policy itself. The policy is regulating that which cannot be regulated. A “football catch” is known only until it is atomized. After it is atomized, in an effort to define its characteristics and elements, no one knows with any confidence what a “football catch” might actually be.

The solution, then, is quite clear: jettison The GIRC altogether. Remove the policy of “football catch” from the rule book. Remove video review systems. Place officials who have been examined for competency into a properly defined role as judges, not as regulators or enforcers, except where necessary. Periodically grade the judges according to their performance in the instant, not according to camera angles or variable speeds of the videos. Assess, revisit, reassess.

Good men will make good judges, and good judges will make good men. When we have reestablished this principle, then sportsing events will become enjoyable again, or, at least in Buffalo, NY, less agonizing.

replay booth

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