Instant replay reduces the likelihood that an incorrect call will decide a sporting event, which makes it a natural factor to include for sports leagues. Particularly given modern technologies that increase the ability to view controversial plays from multiple angles, and ease communication between officials on the field and those in charge of making the replay decision, it’s a natural innovation. However, instant replay also brings negatives, particularly for those fans at the game who have to wait out the delays.
Few things are more disappointing for athletes and sports fans than witnessing a pivotal game decided by a bad call. The purpose of instant replay is to increase accuracy and make sure that obvious errors are corrected. Excellent officials may find themselves in poor position to see how a particular play unfolds, or simply miss a call. Instant replay fixes the correctable errors and gets everyone back on the field as if they never happened, helping the athletes on the field decide the game.
Virtually every fan watching the game on TV has access to instant replay from myriad angles, thanks to the TV networks that display them after every close call. High-definition screens and camera technology that allow operators to zoom in at close angles and capture even minor details increase the ability to determine the accuracy of officials’ decisions. Moreover, much of these features appear over the air, meaning that without instant replay, everyone but the officials knows what really happened on a disputed play.
A big downside to instant replay is its effect on game times and the pace of play. Replays require everything on the field to stop until the decision is made.This can serve to cool down a hot team on the verge of victory, or allow an exhausted defender a crucial extra minute or two of rest. In the NFL, for example, replay reviews are initiated by the replay officials themselves in the final two minutes, meaning a team out of timeouts may effectively get a stoppage handed to them by the replay booth.
Instant replay may be a boon for people watching on TV, who get the benefit of seeing the play in question dozens of time from every angle and hearing from commentators whose job it is to keep them interested. However, for fans at the stadium, who have to wait to find out whether that catch in the end zone is a touchdown or an incomplete pass, replays make it difficult to celebrate positive plays, as they often have to wait for someone else to confirm what they just saw with their own eyes.
Replay can’t be a factor on every type of call, or the pace of play breaks down completely. Judgment calls, for example, generally aren’t reviewable because the replay official doesn’t have any greater perspective than the referee on the scene. Allowing replays for items like ball and strike calls in baseball, holding penalties in football or contact under the hoop in basketball would lead to frequent stoppages. This leads to an ongoing tension between those who want the use of instant replay expanded to reduce the number of missed calls further, and those willing to accept minor inaccuracies and reserve replay for more significant plays.
Confusion on Rules
Most sports leagues have rules that govern when challenges may or may not be used. This prevents teams from abusing the replay rule to question every call, but also limits the effectiveness of the tools. NFL teams, for example, are allowed just two challenges per game, earning a third only if the first two are successful. If an official happens to miss more calls, and those calls don't occur on plays that are automatically reviewed in any event -- such as scoring plays or turnovers -- teams won't be able to get the calls corrected. Coaches may request challenges in situations that don't allow for them, causing more delays while the situation is sorted out.
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