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The Corner of Controversy and Criticism: Challenges, Penalty Flags and Robots

This Summer three of the four major American sports have implemented rule changes or have started experimenting with rule changes, but none have me more heated than what’s going on in baseball. The Atlantic League will be using robots to call balls and strikes the second half of the season, and will also allow batters to steal first on a Wild Pitch. I think letting the batters steal on first is a great move, because it will help speed up the game even more. The idea of a robot calling balls and strikes is absurd. The game of baseball is trying to speed itself up and this will only slow it down with possible errors, malfunctions and not reading the ball accurately. There are already reports that the umpires can overrule the robot if necessary and if that’s the case what’s the point? This isn’t Short Circuit where Johnny 5 had a mind of it’s own and can do what humans can do. I don’t care if it’s Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, College Baseball or even Little League. There is no way a robot should determine aspects and outcomes of a game. Human error is what makes a lot of these games so fascinating.

Even though human error makes the games exciting and fun to talk about, at what point do you cross the line? There have been a lot of major errors in sports over the years that have cost teams championships and money. In regards to baseball, I think they have a great system in place for their challenges. It’s been effective and from everything I’ve seen they have rarely got it wrong when called upon to make a decision. After the controversy of last years NFC Championship game between the Rams and Saints, many people wanted to Pass Interference to be something that coaches could challenge. I was against it before the NFL made it rule earlier this year and I am still against it going into the season. By making Pass Interference something you can challenge, the NFL has opened up Pandora’s Box and set a precedent of a lot of chaos that could happen in the future. Now that the players association and team owners know they can get what they want, don’t be surprised if you see them wanting holding and off-sides as other things you can challenge. Instead of making penalties reviewable, the NFL should adopt something similar that NBA is doing and that’s the ability to review plays within the final few minutes of a game to make sure the right calls are being made at the end of the game when it matters the most.

The officiating in the NBA has been criticized for many years, even with the two minute rule of having plays be reviewed. Recently, the NBA announced that they will be allowing Coaches Challenges. Each team will get one challenge a game and can challenge a variety of calls such as basket interference, goaltending, fouls, and out of bounds calls. I guess it’s a good thing traveling isn’t one of them because James Harden would never get a break. I see two perspectives from this rule that are good and bad. The coaches and players on the bench might see something the that officials don’t, so an extra set of eyes is always a good thing. Those extra set of eyes will now be able to help make a decision on a challenge. The one bad thing they may come out of this is coaches being put under a microscope. With one challenge there are a lot of plays you could challenge and they are constantly going to be questioned of why they challenged one play and not a different. If I am an NBA coach, I would be saving that challenge until the fourth quarter when it mattered the most.

Each sport has it’s issues with challenges, replays and officiating, but at least the NBA and NFL aren’t even entertaining the thought of robotic officials. If that day ever comes, I have a feeling that interest in sports would decrease considerably. Human error is what makes sports intriguing, entertaining and worth talking about. Sports can’t afford to have their games be slowed down by potential errors and malfunctions. In this day in age, people have a shorter attention span then ever. They are either buried in their phone or just not watching it all. There needs to be less challenges, less replays and less reviews to keep the games going. If you want have better officiating than offer more training and hold officials more accountable. In the end, the more rules you add to the game the more complicated it will become.

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