There are certain staples of sports commentary that I have chosen not to write about. I sometimes wonder if other writers had such restraint, they would have anything to say at all. The reason that I have decided not to write about TV analysts, referees, and general managers is because their jobs are hard. It is so easy to sit back and say that you would have drafted Kevin Durant over Greg Oden or Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley. At the time, those decisions seemed anything but clear. General managers get a pass for me. Some deals work out, some don’t. When they don’t the decision makers get fired.
My main avenue of complaint about sports used to be play-by-play men and color commentators. As I’ve written before, the announcing team of Mike Patrick, Paul McGuire, and Joe Theismann drove me from Sunday Night football back when it was on ESPN. To this day, I can’t listen to Patrick when he calls college sports. Fortunately, McGuire and Theismann don’t announce games anymore. For the past several years, I have watched all sports on mute and have enjoyed the experience. Announcers simply have nothing to tell me. I was sorry that the experiments with humorists such as Dennis Miller and Tony Kornheiser did not work. I’d like to hear someone who could make me laugh and my ultimate example (which is probably because I used to be a Cubs fan) is Bill Murray.
The other day I was watching basketball on mute, of course. My daughter walked in and figured it would be a good idea if we announced the game. It was fun for a few minutes, but it quickly became frustrating. How much is there to say? You can describe the action, but I found myself quickly falling into clichéd language. Granted, I am not a professional broadcaster, but if I am going to complain about the lousy state of announcing, then I should be able to at least put myself in their shoes. There is a reason there are only a few people on TV that I can listen to for more than a few minutes (Marv Albert is the greatest). So I won’t complain about TV announcers anymore.
Referees are the last bastion of the complainer. The latest evidence came from Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers who cast judgment on the possible pass interference at the end of the Super Bowl. For some reason, the phrase “being human” does not apply to referees and umpires. If you’ve ever tried to officiate a game, you know how hard these split second decisions are. Add in the amazing skill that professional athletes possess and the judgments become even more difficult. Yet, they are expected to make the right call every time. By the way, if you want to know the biggest difference between watching college and professional basketball, it is the way the players treat the refs. NBA players whine on every play and there is constant politicking going on with the refs. No one would argue that professional players aren’t more talented, but I think the difference between the college game and pro game is not that great. Of course, I watch much more college basketball than pro, so I am probably biased.
To solve the problem of referees making mistakes, football and basketball, to a lesser degree, have made instant replay part of the game. I never liked instant replay in football because it slows the game down and gives the announcers (especially Dan Dierdorf) more time to ramble on aimlessly and often repeatedly. That isn’t such a problem since I watch on mute and generally fast forward through the pauses in action, but I still think it is mainly a waste of time. Referees are going to make mistakes (even with the aid of replay), so why can’t this just be an accepted part of the game?
In my mind, the strangest thing about replay in sports is that baseball has refrained from using it. Baseball is the perfect sport for replay since it is already very slow. I think the sport could eliminate umpires completely. I know the umpires have jobs and no one wants to eliminate jobs, but something like Questec would provide a consistent strike zone. Wouldn’t that be fairer than each umpire having his own interpretation on the strike zone and getting tricked by catchers framing pitches? Why is baseball so technophobic? Perhaps baseball could adopt a system like tennis, which allows players to challenge judgments quickly. Of course, tennis could eliminate line judges as well. With regard to technology, advances in rackets have taken some of the art out of professional tennis. Someone like John McEnroe would be hard-pressed to play against today’s heavy hitters.
All in all, I am not against technology in games. I like the first down line in football, advances in medical science that allow players to return from injury, and even PEDs to a certain extant. However, I don’t like instant replay. It slows games down and doesn’t always provide the justice it aims to. Referees have a tough job, let’s not give every Tom, Dierdorf, and Harry more opportunities to question them.