- MMQB staffers are offering up their bad takes this week, and one editor wants replay off his lawn.
Welcome to Bad Takes Week, where MMQB staffers have been asked to expand upon some of their worst football takes. These are columns on the ideas they believe in strongly, even if it makes the rest of the room groan during our pitch meetings. Keep an eye out for more of these throughout the week.
Twenty years ago, as the NFL was preparing to reintroduce video replay in officiating after its first failed attempt, I wrote that it was a bad idea. The intervening two decades have only hardened my stance. Video replay, taken as a whole, has been bad for the NFL.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose replay. Video review shifts the onus from fallible officials on the field to fallible officials in a booth or at NFL headquarters, offering a false sense of certainty. (How often have you been baffled by a video ruling that runs completely counter to what you saw?) Video review takes the game out of the hands of people. It makes football ever more dependent on technology, hanging on the illusion that gizmos can resolve every dispute. (Bring on the laser 10-yard markers! Put sensors on the ball!) Video review disrupts the game’s flow, interrupting celebrations and delaying gratification—nothing in sports is more ridiculous than 70,000 fans sitting on their hands as a lone official ducks into a peep-show booth to determine the nature of reality, while announcers hem and haw over what they’re seeing, often contradicting themselves on each new angle. Video review erodes our confidence in the officials on the field, and surely erodes their own confidence in themselves, knowing that their decisions are subject to second-guessing from a higher authority. Video review adds ever more layers of complexity and bureaucracy to an already absurdly overcomplicated and over-bureaucratized game. Video review inflates the importance of what are at heart mere games, treating calls in an NFL match on a par with a CSI investigation or the Zapruder film. Video review ruins moments. Imagine the Immaculate Reception, the original Hail Mary or the Holy Roller in the age of replay. Each one of those epochal plays, moments that have defined teams and become part of the lore of the NFL, might have been overturned on review, and we’d all be the worse for it.
This brings us to a larger point. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan posed this simple but devastating question to voters: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Such an approach draws on Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s famous principle: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham proposed that a hedonic calculus can be applied to every aspect of life: Weigh up the pluses and minuses, measure the pleasure versus the pain, and you’ll know what is right, what is good.
Before replay, players and coaches who were on the wrong end of a call griped, fans felt aggrieved—and the game moved on. What’s more, over a sufficient span of time (20 years, say), the karmic balance evened out. For every Immaculate Reception that victimized the Raiders, there was a Holy Roller that benefited them. Given such balance, the weight of video review’s negatives tips the scales against it.
So, to paraphrase Reagan, is football better off now than it was 20 years ago? Are we happier with officiating? With the NFL? I think we all know the answer.
Take it from me, an old fogey—things were better before replay. Get it off my lawn.
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