Get it Right! It's Time for the Officials of Tomorrow

Athletes should be judged on their ability, rather than the ability of those officiating. Officials have significantly altered numerous outcomes of games due to incorrect decisions.

In last summer’s World Cup, the United States was denied a victory over Slovenia when FIFA referee Koman Coulibaly incorrectly called a foul on the U.S. as American Maurice Edu netted the apparent game-winning goal. In the NFL, referee Ed Hochuli prematurely blew his whistle, signaling an incomplete pass, as the Denver Broncos’ Jay Cutler clearly fumbled the ball deep in San Diego Chargers’ territory during a key 2008 game. And in a baseball playoff game in 1996, 12-year old Yankee fan Jeffrey Maier infamously interfered with Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco’s attempt to catch a Derek Jeter fly ball, but umpire Rich Garcia failed to call fan interference, giving Jeter a tainted home run.

Automated officials could replace officials and their human limitations. Most officials are very professional and get most calls correct; in fact, the NFL reported that their referees accurately called 98.1% of plays during the 2008 season. Although this percentage appears high, it actually translates to almost three incorrect calls per game. Automated referees would guarantee that 100% of calls would be correct.

Officials have the obligation to make decisions based on what occurs on the playing surface. Officials are human, and thus have biases. They tend to make calls favoring superstar players. LeBron James oftentimes receives the benefit of the doubt on foul calls, Roy Halladay is given a wider strike zone, and Alexander Ovechkin is more likely to receive a favorable call in the offensive zone. Players or teams that have a reputation of complaining to officials sometimes get the short end of the stick from officials due to a predetermined negative image.

Although technical advances are required to fully automate officiating, there are currently many tools that increase officiating accuracy. Increased use of cameras and instant replays would improve the game-calling. Perhaps lasers, combined with sensors on a batter’s uniform, could assure a consistent strike zone. Maybe a sensor on the football could help referees more accurately spot the ball. Any technique used must not significantly slow down the game.

Purists may argue that automation of game-calling will change the tenor of sports. Yet, tradition-rich baseball has moved in the direction of automation; MLB instituted instant replay on home run calls in 2008 following many embarrassing blown calls. I believe that players, managers, and fans alike would agree that the accuracy of calls is paramount.

Despite my deep appreciation for the history and traditions of baseball and other sports, I believe that reliable, automatic technology should be implemented as soon as possible to help officials make accurate calls. Eventually, human officials could be replaced.

Had automated officiating been in place, the United States would have a victory over Slovenia, the Chargers would have defeated the Broncos, and the Yankees’ stretch of dominance may have had to wait one more year. And, oh yeah, Armando Galarraga would have pitched a perfect game!

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