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Baseball, football should use more technology

Published July 23. 2010 05:00PM

Now that most of the major sports use instant reply in some way or another to decide or at least verify calls by officials, public outcry for more use of available technology has died down.

After recent officiating mistakes in the World Cup Tournament, soccer's international governing bodies have something to think about. But as far as the two most popular sports in America it doesn't seem any kind of change is on the horizon.

Maybe it should be brought to the forefront before a team or individual (see Armando Galarraga) gets robbed of an achievement. Maybe now is the perfect time to look into ways to make umpiring and officiating more fair, consistent and accurate.

One of the biggest roadblocks to any kind of change can be people's fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. But radical change is what's needed, at least in our two favorite sports - baseball and football.

Baseball seems like the easiest place to start using new technology to help get calls right, at least at the sport's highest level. With the advance of video technology, there is no longer a need to have umpires calling balls and strikes from behind the plate.

All the major networks that carry baseball have some type of on-screen strike zone to show viewers whether a pitch was a ball or strike. Why not use that to call every pitch instead of having an umpire behind the plate?

The argument against this would be that it could slow down a game that already moves like molasses flowing up hill. But that's not true. An umpire could be in a video booth somewhere in the stadium. That ump could then let the players and fans know the result simply by putting in on the scoreboard. This could be done in a second or two, by the time the pitcher has the ball back in his glove.

In fact, the strike zone box could even be shown on a screen so the pitcher and batter, or for that matter all the players and fans, know exactly where the pitched missed or what part of the strike zone it touched.

This could actually speed up the game because players and coaches would have no basis to argue calls. The evidence would be on the screen and they'd simply have to accept it and move on.

The same could go for calls at the bases, fair and foul balls, home runs, balks and even catches that appear to be trapped or line drives and fly balls that might or might not have touched the ground before being gloved.

The one draw back is that players might learn the location of the cameras and try to shield them from the play. But that wouldn't be in their best interest because if the camera doesn't pick up the play there is only a 50-50 chance that it goes against the player who shielded.

For this reason there should probably be an umpire or two on the field, but they should be a back up to the video evidence instead of the other way around.

It's a radical idea, but one that could improve the game if people could get past their fear of change.

Because football calls are not as black and white as baseball's, it might not be as easy to implement.

But in football referees could easily be taken off the field and put into a video booth on the sidelines or further up in the stadium. When they see a penalty or have to rule on player being in-bounds or out-of-bounds, across the goal line or not, they could easily relay the information to an official on the sideline who in turn announces the call.

This would make the game better in at least two ways. First, the officials would no longer be on the field to get in the way of the play, which might not happen often but doesn't need to happen at all.

Second, calls would be more consistent. As former Philadelphia Eagle Mike Golic has pointed out on his radio show, Mike and Mike in the Morning, it's only a penalty if you get caught. And under the current system that rings completely true.

Making calls through video evidence rather than using only the naked eye would mean calls such as holding, pass interference and face masking would be easier to spot and more consistently enforced.

Most teams already take 20 or 30 seconds between plays. That would be plenty of time for officials in secluded video booth to see the play and make the call. Even teams running no huddles take a good five seconds or so to get back to the line and run another play. Again, plenty of time for officials to view a play from multiple angles and either stop the game to make a call or let the team run its next play.

There would need to be several officials in the booth, each with specific assignments. Maybe one or two are watching the lines for holding. Others could watch the downfield action for pass interference and illegal use of hands.

These are radical changes and ones that would likely be met with extreme pessimism at the least. But if it keeps another player from being denied a perfect game or a team denied an important win, then radical changes should be considered.

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