The Big 12, in a maneuver so backward you can virtually hear it beeping, adopted a “sportsmanship” policy this week that penalizes schools for showing controversial replays too frequently.
This guideline surfaces during a period when football and basketball programs wary of sagging attendance claim they are seeking to enhance the fan experience. Well, nothing enhances the live-game atmosphere like texting your brother-in-law back home to ask “How did that play look on TV?”
Baylor athletics director Ian McCaw, a member of the Big 12 sportsmanship committee, says multiple displays of controversial replays “can elevate the hostility in a venue.” (So can $8 beers and other concession prices that seem gougey even by airport standards, but we’ve yet to hear the Big 12 come out in favor of affordable chicken strips.)
This warns home teams to maintain professional decorum and could only be useful In the most egregious of circumstances—like a videoboard operator rewinding a first-half play during the fourth quarter just to remind the folks they got screwed. The protocol for disciplining violators is murky, however, and McCaw says schools only will be punished for repeatedly airing replays that are “going to incite a crowd.”
By current Big 12 standards, Oklahoma State may have toed the line during a 2014 basketball game in Stillwater when Marcus Smart fouled out against WVU with only four points. Several of Smart’s fouls were replayed, multiple times from multiple angles, and the Gallagher-Iba crowd booed each one more and more lustily.
By the way … it was awesome.
If this is the scene the Big 12 hopes to curb—fans standing, completely energized and roaring full-throat—then the next move should be replacing public address announcers with the chair umpire from Roland Garros. (Silence s’il vous plaît.)
Replay has become the fulcrum point for game-changing moments, with outcomes overturned or validated hinging on frame-by-frame slow-mo. And yet a Power 5 conference—whose commissioner spoke Friday about sharing content via “alternative delivery systems”—has the outdated gall to think fans are too emotionally fragile to handle re-watching a play from multiple angles. (#IgnoranceIsBliss?)
What about the hostility potential for the privileged legions like McCaw who watch games from luxury boxes? Are they not prone to ransacking the buffet after noticing blown-call replays on their suites’ flatscreens? (Mind you it was McCaw’s own sports-information director who was fined $1,000 last season for gripe-tweeting about the number of flags Baylor incurred at West Virginia.)
Instead of policing Jumbotrons for dubious replays, the Big 12 should be addressing the real problem—fining schools for not showing enough of them. In three years covering WVU basketball, I can’t recall seeing one block/charge replay inside the Coliseum. During late-game situations, I duck into the Jerry West media lounge to watch the TV feed, making sure I can see the crucial replays that obviously are too provocative for the arena videoboard.
Not that WVU is alone in this practice. Fans at March Madness sites in Columbus and Cleveland were treated to an exciting loop of the NCAA logo whenever the broadcast networks cut to replays. Major League Baseball has kept its head in the dirt for decades while attempting to shield umpires from the scrutiny of ballpark replays.
Yet just as cameras and opinions are expanding, Big 12 administrators adopted a throwback approach by corralling all that technology and making it off-limits to the people who pay to watch the games first-hand.
What in the name of muted atmospheres are they thinking on this one? Stadium crowds already endure seemingly never-ending TV timeouts; subjecting them to lengthy official reviews without benefit of actually seeing replays is just cruel and unusual game presentation. (Hey, Mr. Endzone Season Ticketholder with the poor sightline: While the refs confirm that fourth-down catch, the Big 12 suggests you plop down on that hard metal bleacher and remember how lucky you are to have this game DVR’d.)
Yes, some fans say nasty, despicable things to refs and players and coaches. Limiting replays won’t shut up these fools.
Protecting referees from the more typical jeers of amped-up crowds seems necessary in Pee-Wee or middle school, not in the FBS. Big 12 football officials earn between $1,200 and $1,900 per game, and the ones without thick skin tend to be weeded out before ever getting a shot at the high-profile conferences. If a couple replays can negatively influence their on-field decisions, we should implement robot refs immediately.
Until those artificial-intelligence line judges are mobilized, Big 12 schools have their edict: Flicker the million-dollar HD video screens with ads from Texas Farm Bureau, Muscle Milk, Verizon and other “official” sponsors—just don’t mix in too many of the replays your ticket-buyers actually want to see.