Playoff roundtable: What should NBA do about instant replay?
SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
What should the NBA do about instant replay?
Ben Golliver: Set up the off-site command center for reviews already. The NBA has been talking about this for a year now and this week's drama is more evidence that it's time to enter the 21st century. Asking the referees to make "series-altering calls" -- to borrow a phrase from an outraged Doc Rivers -- by looking at a small monitor with limited angles while a loud, impassioned crowd tries to swing the decision and two coaches lobby their cases is dumb on so many levels. Get an off-site command center with as many high-definition screens, camera angles and well-trained replay officials as possible, and get it going in time for the start of the 2014 preseason. (The NBA seems to have that timetable in mind.) There's no other way to make sure things are working smoothly than by putting the system to the test as soon as possible. The goal should be to have all the kinks ironed out by the 2015 playoffs.
Also, get a league spokesman -- preferably a current or former referee -- to explain the calls in a clear and unbiased manner for the television audiences, regardless of whether the game is on nationally or locally. That way, the viewing public gets a full, accurate and unbiased explanation for the call straight from the horse's mouth.
Phil Taylor: Tweak it. A little fine-tuning is all that's needed. Here's the thing about instant replay, in every sport: It will never completely eliminate blown calls. There are always going to be cases of inconclusive evidence, inadequate camera angles, calls that are so close that even frame-by-frame examination won't lead to full agreement on the proper decision. The point of instant replay isn't to be perfect; it's to get calls right as often as is reasonably possible. There's no question that bad calls get corrected more often than they did before replay -- not every bad call, but many of them. That's a good thing. So, the idea of abolishing the system because botched calls still slip through occasionally is silly. (Although I would get rid of the use of replay to assess possible clear-path fouls forever and for all time. Why exactly do we need to stop the game for five minutes in the second quarter to determine just where and when Shaun Livingston grabbed LeBron James' jersey? Just call the foul and move on. There's no reason why a defender shouldn't be able to foul to prevent a breakaway dunk, anyway.)
There is one small change that might have made the controversial calls at the end of the Thunder-Clippers and Heat-Nets games more acceptable, though: On a ball that goes out of bounds, give the officials the latitude to award the ball to the team that last touched it if the refs determine that the team lost the ball because of excessive contact the way Reggie Jackson and Paul Pierce did on the plays in question. It would be similar to the force-out rule that the NBA abolished several years ago. Refs shouldn't be able to look at replay and call a foul retroactively, because that would open up a Pandora's box. But it seems wrong to ask them to ignore obvious illegal contact when they see it on replay. A force-out type rule would give them more discretion to do the right thing. Bottom line: Just because there is no perfect system doesn't mean there should be no system at all.
Matt Dollinger: Get rid of it. Enough already. I'd rather referees get the call wrong once instead of twice. Instant replay has slowed the game down too much. Instead of having the drama and intensity continuously building in the final few minutes of these playoff games, we're forced to watch officials huddle around monitors at half court and painstakingly review clips over and over and over again. The reviews often feel arbitrary, and officials can overturn only certain elements of the play. Even if the refs see they made an incorrect call, they may not be able to reverse it by rule. I've had enough of the unnecessary delays. I've had enough of officials reviewing a play only to get it wrong again. Let's get rid of instant replay, speed up the games, keep the intensity of playoff games intact and save referees the embarrassment of getting a call wrong in real time and on review.
Chris Johnson: An off-site system system could work, and the league needs to do a better job explaining controversial calls. Doc Rivers had everyone’s best interests in mind when, minutes after the Clippers’ devastating and controversial Game 5 loss to Oklahoma City, he said, “The answer is get it right.” If only it were that simple. Late in the fourth quarter, it seemed clear after a review that Thunder guard Reggie Jackson was fouled, even though the ball clearly touched his hand last before going out of bounds, which should have resulted in the Clippers’ gaining possession. The problem is, referees can’t use replay to assess foul calls retroactively. This inevitably leads to awkward situations in which they deliberately ignore illegal contact while still trying to make the right call after the fact by compartmentalizing and looking solely at who touched the ball last.
Ridding the game of replay is not the solution. It's also not feasible. The technology is in place, so the league is going to use it. The key is finding the right way to use it. The plan for an off-site command center is a good idea. Not only would this lessen the burden on the referees, but, most important, it would also reduce the number of botched calls -- particularly ones that, as Rivers said, could be "series-defining" -- and help speed up the end of games. Ideally, the off-site personnel also provide clear and coherent explanations of questionable calls. The one issued by referee Tony Brothers after Game 5 failed to cite language in the NBA rulebook that could have clarified why Oklahoma City retained possession on the play in question. Fans and media deserve better.