The NBA has officially revised its rules for instant replay. In particular, the referees can no longer initiate a replay of out-of-bounds infractions in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period. The only way to look at out of bounds violations is through the Coach’s Challenge. NBA fans have gone to see if these changes are good or not. In our opinion, the league was ultimately right and here are the three reasons why.
NBA Instant Replay Well Done
1. The last two minutes went on forever, turning off new viewers
As the NBA noted in its press release, the reason for the review was “to improve the flow of play.” The officials who decided this case probably heard Jeff Van Gundy’s tirades about how the last two minutes of the game dragged on. For him, this did not bode well for the game as it put viewers off, especially those who are watching for the first time. As with all sports leagues, one of the main goals is to attract and retain audiences.
Van Gundy understands that one of the great things about basketball as entertainment is not just how easy it is to grasp rules and goals, but also its pace. Basketball is a very fast-paced sport which makes it fun to watch. As such, seeing the game come to a screeching halt is a rather odd event, especially in the final two minutes of a very close game. Containing the excitement is good. But removing it for an unreasonable amount of time ends up killing it. This is what happens when literally every game below the two minute mark is reviewed. Ultimately, basketball is a sport meant to be entertained. Hardcore fans probably like to see how these rerun reviews play out. But the NBA isn’t just watched by alumni.
2. NBA referees have lost their autonomy
There’s nothing more hilarious or irritating (depending on which side you’re on) than seeing Patrick Beverley twirl his index finger in the air over and over again, signifying he wants a proofread. On the other end of the spectrum, there is nothing more infuriating than seeing the umpires almost run over to the announcer table to discuss what seems like an easy call to make. The actions on both sides are understandable. As a player you want everything to go the way you want it to. Your goal is to win by whatever means necessary. The referees, for their part, want to be sure that they have made the right choice.
These elements tend to collide. The result is that the referees generally accede to the wishes of the players by going to the announcer’s office to review the game in question. This pretty much stripped the arbitrator’s independence from outside influence – one of the basic tenets of his job. The players naturally try to develop a good relationship with the referees. Some of them actually try to influence the headspace of the referee by pointing to specific tendencies of multiple players. They are free to do and say whatever they want. But a good referee should ignore all these antics from players and coaches.
As such, the revision pretty much gives the arbitrators back their autonomy. If players want a piece to be examined, then the only way to do it is through the rules – as it should be. Gone are the days when Beverley kept spinning her index finger for free review and sometimes even free time out. He could still do it. But for his wishes to be granted, it has to be through the Coach’s Challenge, which is ultimately at the discretion of the head coach.
3. All calls are “equal”
The point is this: NBA referees are human beings and therefore susceptible to error. The desire for perfection is understandable. But it is simply an impossible task. This means that there is a good chance that they will miss several calls throughout the game and not just in the last two minutes. The old rule that umpires could fundamentally review an unlimited number of games (as long as it’s below the two-minute mark) removes the principle that every possession and every point counts. Having infinite credits to review coins below the two minute mark puts too much emphasis on it, which somehow lowers the value of other calls outside of this one.
What about missed calls in the first, second and third trimesters? Shouldn’t these respective quarters and calls be treated equally? Teams don’t win by beating their opponents only in the fourth quarter. They get the win by taking it a possession and a quarter at a time. It would be foolish to say that a team that lost by two points could have won if the referees had made the right choice in the final two minutes. What about the blatantly missed first quarter call that could have been a play and one or maybe even a four point play?
The review does its best to reinforce the essence of the adage that every point and possession counts. If you want an exam it will cost you a coaching challenge. If it fails, you lose time out that could have been used to craft a winning game. This new revision is not yet perfect. It only applies to the last two minutes of each quarter and to overtime. But setting a quota is better than allowing players and coaches to do virtually whatever they want.