Get rid of the video umpire or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Post

Today’s high-definition slo-mo replays put umpires under significant pressure to make the correct call. In earlier times, players and barrackers might get upset about a perceived bad call but had no proof to point to, and having a tough decision go against you was acknowledged as the luck of the game.

Now that proof is readily available for any incorrect call, the AFL has responded by introducing video umpiring for some decisions. This takes some of the pressure off umpires, but it introduces unsatisfying delays and still doesn’t provide certainty.

A VFL goal umpire in white coat and hat

The goal umpire will see you now

One solution would be for everyone to change their philosophy – to come to grips with the idea that what an umpire sees is all that counts. That if a goal umpire determines the ball had touched the post (but the video shows it didn’t) we shrug and put the blame on the player for not kicking more accurately, for not doing enough for the umpire to be satisfied.

Of course, that will never happen. We’ve always blamed the umpires and we always will. The simplest palatable solution, then, is to remove some of the difficult decisions entirely.

Hit the post

“I think it was a goal but I want to check it didn’t brush the post.”

So what if it did brush the post? Did it go through the goalposts? That’s enough for me, give them six points and go back to the centre.

If the ball hits the post and bounces back into play things get a bit trickier. We could play on, as was trialled in pre-season games, but the smallest change would be to award a behind in those cases only.

Touched

“I think it was a goal but I want to see if it was touched.”

Do we really need to deny someone a goal if their opponent brushed the tip of their pinky finger against it? Why do we reward defenders who couldn’t stop the ball from going through? If the primary driving force behind the goal was an attackers foot, and there was no non-foot assistance from a teammate (headers or hands-of-God), let’s call it a goal.

Similarly, why does it matter if a kick was touched off the boot when awarding a mark? The defender didn’t smother it enough to prevent it going the required fifteen metres. Let’s get rid of the touched-off-the-boot restriction.

An AFL defender who may or may not be touching the ball as it crosses the line.

The excitement of a Friday night score review!

KISS

I won’t have considered all the ramifications of my suggestions, and I’m not wedded to them. It also wouldn’t solve line-ball problems – that’d remain the issue it is in so many other sports, and only billions of dollars or my suggestion for a philosophy change can fix that.

The idea I want to promote is that it’s better to remove or simplify the existing laws to achieve an objective than to add more technology and processes to do the same. My suggestions may raise the hackles of traditionalists, but Aussie rules is already a very different sport to the one they watched and played as kids. Is a slight change to the definition of a goal as bad as requiring video validation for every scoring decision?

2 thoughts on “Get rid of the video umpire or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Post

  1. The situation is even worse in cricket.

    First, the technology isn’t conclusive as it is mired by a subjective interpretation – decisions are perhaps even more controversial when the third umpire’s interpretation appears counter intuitive.

    Second, it is subject to manipulation by cricketers which is beyond the intent of the DRS – it being implemented to redress an obviously bad decision. I recall Tony Grieg was a big agitator for the implementation of technology in these situations as he argued players’ careers were in the balance, and a bad decision could cost a player his place in the team, an absurd notion. I think to prevent manipulation of this kind, reviews could be made but without the use of the tracking system, snicko, and hotspot. The third umpire would essentially make a decision in slow time using replays. Might sound silly, but it would solve most obviously incorrect decisions and prevent players ‘taking a punt’ on decisions on the margins.

    Third, take the example of a player given out LBW by the on-field umpire, the fielding team decide to appeal, the tracking system shows that the ball was only just brushing the stumps and hence the on-field umpire’s call remains; now hypothetically take the same situation but the the on-field umpire’s call was ‘not out’ and the batsman appeals, the tracking system shows the ball marginally brushing the stumps as before and as before it is reverted to the umpire’s call and remains ‘not out’. This for me is the inherent logical flaw in the DRS: it allows for a moment in time to split into two alternate realities. It’s a case of not handing over to the technology completely which is antithetical to purpose. If we trust the tracking system enough to use it then if the ball is brushing the stumps then it should be out.

    Fourth, it allows fielding teams two bites of the cherry. Take the example of an appeal for LBW that is turned down by the on-field umpire, the fielding team appeals and it is found that the batsman faintly edged the ball which was caught by the ‘keeper. The batsman is given out caught even though the fielding team appealed for LBW.

    For me I have seen enough to realise that review systems add nothing to the spectacle and do nothing to avoid controversy. Leave the decisions to the umpires and accept that sometimes they won’t get it right, and that’s ok. Works fine in the BBL.

    • Agree with everything you say. My preference is for people to get over it and accept the umpire’s decision and that it is sometimes wrong, but that’s not happening. I’m therefore proposing minor changes to some rules simply as the next-best option, which I see as preferable to video umpiring.

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