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Which sport has the worst instant replay system? An investigation

Rutgers v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Sports. Technology. Two great tastes that go great together. OK, that is a barefaced lie. As much as we have fallen in love with the innovations technology has brought to sports, we also often hate the implementation of things like instant replay and referee review. It’s because, somehow, no matter how good this stuff sounds on paper, it always ends up sucking and makes us all furious anyway.

But, there are striations of sucking. Variances in implementation and exercise that definitively make some instant replays more off putting than others. It’s difficult to evaluate which instant replay is the best without being woefully subjective. So I’ve implemented a fool proof* method for objective evaluation I call the “Universal Suck Quotient,” or the USQ. We take the total search results for a given sport, like say “NFL” and divide those by the Google search result number for “[sport] replay sucks.” This gives us an idea of what percentage of people interested in the sport thinks the replay system sucks. From there I will implement my own subjective writer’s tilt, which I promise to exercise only then it’s important.
*This method is definitely not fool proof.

MLB: 22.31 USQ

Is anything good about MLB instant replay?

Yes. I mean, it’s good to get calls right — and despite resisting for so many years there’s actually a lot that’s laudable about MLB instant replay. Some will argue that it doesn’t go far enough, but it’s so much better than seeing a game get decided by a bad call on the field. This is generally reflected by the system’s low USQ. Most people are happy with it.

What’s bad about it?

How do we have a system that can review whether a ball is foul or fair, but not whether it’s a ball or a strike? I feel like that’s the most basic important thing you need to get correct in baseball — but it’s not reviewable.

Remember that time in 2018 when it took umpires ALMOST FOUR MINUTES to decide on a call?

NASCAR: 45.13 USQ (-20 writer’s tilt) = 25.13 USQ

Is anything good about NASCAR instant replay?

Yes. I mean, it’s all functionally fine. Race infractions have been corrected or clarified through the use of the system and there is generally not much complaining about it.

What’s bad about it?

Not much, honestly. I used a writer’s tilt here because the majority of results for “NASCAR instant replay sucks” were people complaining about when races were re-airing on TV. There isn’t much talk about people being unhappy with the system.

NFL 29.38 USQ

Is anything good about NFL instant replay?

More calls are being made correctly now, which goes for any of this stuff. The whole challenge flag concept it fun, and now that networks are employing former rules officials to add commentary it’s always hilarious when they definitively say what is going to happen, and then referees see something entirely different.

What’s bad about it?

They still get stuff wrong all the time. Also there are so many weird caveats on what can, and can’t be challenged for seemingly no reason. There are dozens of game-defining moments every season that can’t be altered because NFL rules don’t allow certain penalties or plays to be challengeable.

And who could forget ...

Tennis 33.01 USQ

Is there anything good about the Hawk-Eye system in tennis?

Tennis is definitely better off for using the Hawk-Eye technology. More close calls are being made correctly thanks to the system, and considering many of these line calls happen at a speed that’s difficult for humans to process, ultimately the sport is better off.

What’s bad about it?

There’s a margin of error. Now, that margin is listed at 3.6 mm, which is barely perceptible — but there are instances where the replay has failed. In the 2007 Wimbledon man’s final a line call was made in a match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer that came down to a 1 mm difference between a shot being in or out.

Rugby League 47.62 USQ

Is there anything good about Rugby League’s “Video Ref”?

There are a few great elements to the video ref system in rugby league. Firstly, it’s made more correct calls — but the innovation really comes in the use of multiple officials (in the NRL in Australia) which decide as a group what the video is showing. It results in more correct calls than mistakes.

What’s bad about it?

There have been human error issues in the past. These range from the wrong button being pressed to telling the crowd the wrong call, to the NRL announcing that calls have been correctly poorly.

Rugby Union 48.72 USQ

Is there anything good about Rugby Union’s system?

Similar to the NFL, Rugby Union adopted a system which uses TV cameras to replay angles at referee request. There is no way for teams to challenge calls, instead it’s up to the head referee to ask for a second look.

What’s bad about it?

There have been numerous times in the past fans have believed a moment needed a second look, but the lead referee chose not to send the moment to the booth for another look.

Cricket 53.01 USQ

Is there anything good about the Hawk-Eye, Snicko, and Hotspot systems?

Perhaps no sport was in need of technology more than cricket. There are so many moments that hang on subjectivism or referee’s decision that really shouldn’t. Furthermore, the technology is so cool to watch. Whether it’s thermal imaging to pick up a potential LBW, or a ultra-sensitive microphones to hear glances, the game is definitely better off for having the technology.

What’s bad about it?

I am never one to clutch pearls about the history of the game impacting its future, but there are definitely times it feels like moving to a lengthened decision by video evidence only makes a long game feel even longer and some of the drama and romanticism is removed by every call being double and triple checked.

NCAA basketball: 53.78 USQ

Is there anything good about the instant replay system in NCAA basketball?

It’s admirable that people want the sport to be as correct as possible.

What’s bad about it?

Every single call is getting stopped and over-analyzed. I know it’s important to get things right, but it feels like it’s coming at the expense of the game right now.

NBA 62.21 USQ

This is really an identical case of the NCAA’s benefit and problem to the game. It’s being used to correct a lot of calls and even verify buzzer beaters and important elements that should be right — but it’s also slowing everything down far too much.

This earns a higher USQ largely because more people are complaining about what instant replay has done to the NBA than they have in NCAA basketball.

Professional Bull Riders 297.59 USQ (-200 writer’s tilt) = 97.59 USQ

I had to put a massive writer’s tilt on this one because the vast majority of complaining about replay in PBR came from people complaining about events being re-aired in the middle of the night.

Is there anything good about instant replay in PBR?

Anyone can issue a challenge and have a call reviewed, and more often than not they get it right. Also this whole system is weird and amazing at the same time. Like a challenge flag in the NFL, another rider or team can challenge a decision and have it reviewed. If they’re right the call is overturned — but if they’re wrong they need to donate $500 to a group charity to provides funding for retired bull riders.

NHL 127.41 USQ

Is there anything good about instant replay in the NHL?

It’s nice to have borderline goals checked.

What’s wrong with it?

Fans absolutely hate it. Everything from offsides to judgement calls can be reviewed by a coach challenge and it’s made the entire system draw anger and hatred. The offside challenge in particular just ruins the flow of the game and needs to go away. In 2017 the Edmonton Oilers were caught in a situation where they lost a playoff game because of video review, and that’s the kind of thing that just makes fans hate it all as a result.

The there was this moment from 2015 in which it took over 10 minutes to resolve a challenge. Who is a fan of this? Who likes this? Is it worth the hassle? No.

Golf: 24.06 USQ (+1,000 writer’s tilt) = 1,024.06 USQ

Golf might not have a traditional instant replay system, but dammit it belongs on this list. Do you know the process behind correcting a call in the PGA? Basically viewers can call in any infractions they see on the course, and then tape will be reviewed. A golfer doesn’t even know they’ve made a mistake until after the round it over.

Golf have made instant replay an internet message board of people whining, except it’s binding. Imagine an NFL game being reversed after the final whistle because a viewer called in about a referee mistake in the first quarter.

What garbage.

Soccer (VAR): 3,513.70 USQ

VAR sucks. You can tell how much VAR is loathed by people based on how many soccer fans have taken to the internet to vent about how much they dislike VAR. VAR is the hall monitor you had to deal with in high school. The coworker who rats out people for taking too many bathroom breaks.

I know that the stakes are high and getting calls correct are important — but when it means a team gets kicked out of the World Cup because of VAR ... then it’s gone too far.

Nobody likes VAR.

VAR can die in a fire.