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To err is human, to get it right is divine

July 07, 2010|By BILL KOHLER

Full disclosure here:

I am a human being. No matter how confident my walk, no matter how impeccable my clothes, no matter how many big words I use, I still am an imperfect being.

We all are.

Perfection is a fruitless pursuit. Lexus was relentless for the past several decades, but the carmaker failed. Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game one night, five days after getting knocked around for eight earned runs by the Red Sox.

On a grander scale, presidents, judges and politicians are also prone to error. The ramifications of their decisions have a greater impact and sometimes don't manifest themselves for years.

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So I bring to you the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We are now down to three teams chasing the dream and thankfully, much of the talk the last week or so has been about the play and not the referees.

There has been great drama and great play. We've actually seen some scoring, which is wonderful for ratings and the fringe viewers.

However, I'm still hearing talk about the referees and the need for video replays to fix their mistakes.

Video replay has shown that the referees have blown several major calls, including a phantom call against the United States that disallowed a goal, and a sure goal for England in its match against Germany. That goal would have tied the score at 2-2 just before half.

The bottom line is this: The most important thing for any arbiter - be it on a field or in a courtroom - is to get it right.

More disclosure: I am a soccer referee. I have officiated high school and youth games for more than 15 years. I have no real desire at this point, with my work schedule and family, to go any higher in the field. I can only imagine the pressure a referee feels in a World Cup match because I still get butterflies when I do a high school varsity match.

With that said, what matters most is that when you are on the world's grandest stage, you'd better make sure the fate and hopes of an entire nation (or two or three in the case of this year's tournament) are not decided by one man incorrectly.

All major sports have made strides to "get it right" without totally taking the human element out of the games.

Baseball, basketball, hockey and football all use some form of video in certain cases to verify if the puck crossed into the net, if the baseball hit above the yellow line or if the ball was released before the horn.

It's not necessary to have video for all games, but on the world's biggest stage, you'd better make sure you take every step to get the call right.

Video is not really a valid option because in FIFA-sanctioned games, the clock never stops, and replays would be time-consuming and a logistical nightmare. The whole time-stoppage thing is already confusing and controversial.

In soccer, a three-person system is used in which the center referee has a whistle and the assistant referees have flags. The assistant referees are responsible for watching to see if the ball crosses over the goal line, but sometimes are screened and most times are 30 to 40 yards away from the goal. The center referee has final say on this, but he also gets screened and occasionally is out of position.

Nothing is more important than scoring a goal in soccer and getting that call right is paramount. It's like a touchdown in football, but less frequent. It's like a final exam in the academic world. Screw that up and you're toast.

Here's a simple fix - fair and inexpensive - that could be used in the highest-level games.

Station a referee with a flag on each goal line (or end line) at about 6 yards out and make his ONLY responsibility watching the ball's proximity to that goal line. A flag up means a goal, no flag means "play on."

This gives the center referee the opportunity to focus more on the clawing, the shirt pulling, and the occasional and explicable deliberate hand balls that go on in the box in higher-level matches.

This fix is as close to perfect as soccer will get to eliminating some red-faced moments suffered by the sport during what should be its finest hours. If this doesn't work for the game's purists, then try something else.

Yes, we all make mistakes, but can we learn from them? It's what most reputable news organizations try to do. It's what smart businesses and organizations strive to accomplish.

Firing those referees is not an answer. Making them better and getting them some help on the most important calls is a step in the right direction. Too much is at stake not to get these calls right.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Herald-Mail. Weigh in with your thoughts by posting a comment below.

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