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Don't blame the refs

January 14, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Somewhere along the way, we all got sold a bill of goods.

Way back in the Dark Ages, we were told that the birth of technology was going to change our lives forever.

Boy, did they see us coming.

In a way, the boom of computer, video and audio advancements has been a blessing.

Heck, if it weren't for the spinning ball, disco dancers would have looked like people in need of shock.

And what would video games be without video. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any reason for joy in the joystick.

Still, even with all its advantages, this technology thing has changed everything we know. It has revolutionized our work and complicated our leisure.

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And now, it is becoming the bothersome focal point of our games.

Computers have allowed us to increase our production. Great, but it has forced employees to do more work.

It used to be you went home at the end of your workday. Now, you take work home with you.

Some advancement.

Now we don't have to leave our easy chair to be entertained. Sports and movies come into our homes with cable and DVDs. In a sense, technology can be blamed for rising ticket costs at theaters and stadiums because people don't have to attend events anymore. There are a lot of reasons for high ticket prices, but add the lack of attendance to the list because it forces an increase of prices for everything from seats to hot dogs to floppy fingers to make up for sparse crowds. There is less demand for the supply.

And now, our technology is changing the way we watch those games.

Over the course of the last two weekends, the NFL's officiating has been placed under the microscope more often than a slide in a high school biology class.

The advent of instant replay in pro football has put every call and every whistle on the research table.

Most recently, it started when a last-second field goal attempt in the New York Giants-San Francisco Wild Card game was turned into a Keystone Kops revival.

This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers are sipping the whine of some sour grapes after the three-for-one field goal sale they held in Tennessee was caught on film.

Today, there are 76 camera angles that television affords TV viewers - which are also given to the fans sitting in the stands via the Jumbotrons. Refs get one look from one angle in one second.

In the pre-replay days, all calls were accepted and the game went on. Today, the ref's split-second decisions are never the final word. They are usually red-flagged and dissected like one of those biology projects.

The idea behind instant replay was a noble one.. It was supposed to be a backup to help officials iron out the wrinkles they may have from difficult calls caused by the speed of today's games.

But instead of enhancing the game, it may have ruined it.

It has made officials timid. Instead of making a decisive call, it has become a coin flip. SpongeBob Squarepants has more backbone than an NFL referee.

It used to be that the guys in the striped shirts respected an authority figure armed with a rulebook to keep games clean and fair. Now, those stripes only make a ref look like a convict, someone accused of stealing a team or city out of a championship. It is a phenomenon that has crept into sports on every level.

You can't blame the ref's apprehension though. It's human nature in most any profession for performance to fall off when it is subjected to ridicule at every turn.

Although football is in the forefront for instant replay, it is there in other sports.

The NHL uses it to determine if a goal was actually scored.

In baseball, we have cameras on the centerfield wall watching the ball-and-strike calls of umpires that leaves the fans sitting in the stand clutching malty beverages groaning. In reality, none of the three are in a prime position to call a pitch. One is too far away and off line, another is too close and the third is out of focus (mix and match the three categories).

The funny thing about the Case of the Giants' Field Goal Flub is it turned the term "instant replay" into an oxymoron.

It took the NFL three days of viewing the "instant" tapes to figure out what wrong calls were made. Where did they take the film? To a Fotomat? So much for INSTANT replay.

It turned the whole incident into a circus with only one region - New York - in outrage. Giants fans did all the grousing and complaining about being cheated.

Not much was said in San Francisco. And the commissioner's office realigned the officials to cover its luxury box seat cover.

More of the same might be in store this week with Pittsburgh fans crying wolf and Tennessee fans whistling in the corner.

The truth is it is very, very rare when an official's call decides which team wins and which loses. A call didn't lead the Giants into blowing a 24-point lead, forcing them to need a tying field goal.

And what about the Steelers? Wasn't it a Pittsburgh player who was penalized for rolling into kicker Joe Nedney that gave him a second second chance? And why did coach Bill Cowher try to be too cute when he tried to call a timeout to freeze Nedney's third and ultimate game-winning attempt?

A lot of money and jobs are invested in winning, but blaming the refs for losing is nothing more than arrogance.

It's also part of the new American way. If you don't succeed, blame someone else.

Instant replay has complicated the simple nature of sports - one team beats another because it is better than, outwitted or outworked the opposition. For the few calls replay correct, it causes more controversy than it may be worth.

It might be another case of technology making us work more than before.

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