One of the more durable innovations from the Super League debacle has been the video ref. Once used responsibly as a way to overturn bad decisions, it seems like every try is analysed upstairs.
It slows the game down. At its best, rugby league is an exciting, free-flowing sport. The relatively simple rules (at least compared to rugby union), keeps the game moving. Relying on the video ref may create some drama for the television, but use it too much and the game grinds to a halt as the forensic analysis occurs. Some cynics would say the advertising exposure on the TRY/NO TRY screen (anyone else have the urge to eat KFC after the game?) is the reason for the increased use of the video referee. Commentators even argue about what the video referee can rule on? Does he rule on incidents directly before a try? If not, how far in the set does he go back? It’s all rather confusing.
Cricket’s had the same problem. Simple decisions turn into an episode of CSI and every piece of equipment is sponsored (advertising is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?). The umpires also check no-balls “just to be sure”. Of course, any decent umpire should be in position to judge no-balls in the delivery stride, not wait until something important happens.
The overuse of the video ref doesn’t help the main referee’s confidence. A decision they would have confidently made ten years ago now immediately goes upstairs. Like eating the packet of Tim Tams on the kitchen counter, you know you shouldn’t do it, but you do it because it’s there and nobody’s telling you not to do it.
A recent addition has been the referee giving a try/no try verdict before the video referee gets involved. Like cricket, there has to be sufficient evidence to overturn the original decision. One major fault with the video referee is the slow-motion replays. What looks like a fair try at regular speed begins to look suspicious when played frame-by-frame. Play the same frames enough times and a certain try become more doubtful. Was the try-scorer onside? Did he have enough downward pressure? Was his foot near the sideline? We all remember the “Rowdy Roddy Peeper” promo from The Simpsons, where Groundskeeper Willy is made to look suspicious with dramatic music and some strategic close-ups.
One innovation has been the Captains Challenge in the NYC. It allowed the captains to do their best Shane Watson impersonation and challenge any dubious ruling. Each team was given one incorrect challenge per half. If the challenge was right, they kept the challenge. Get it wrong and it’s gone.
This idea has merit, with some tweaking. Rather than leave it to the players (whose judgement is clouded anyway), hand it to the referees (the men and women PAID to make decisions). Give them three decisions a half (six per game). Once the three have been used (regardless of the result), that’s it. This may reduce the reliance on the video ref. It would probably make the video ref’s job easier too. Rather than sit in the box all game, not knowing how many calls they will make, they know they will make a maximum of six decisions per game. Less time wasted needlessly analysing every single little decision and more time to do their job: officiate meaningful decisions. This could slowly give the on-field referees power again and courage to chance their arm and make an on-field call like their granddaddies used to do.
Is this likely to happen? Probably not, but it’s worth discussing.