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The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

When Will We Get Refbots?

What a great weekend of basketball!  Three great games that were in doubt throughout.  All is great, right?  Heck no!

First, Wichita State remains peeved that the referees called that jump ball with less than 10 seconds to go.  All across the web people were perplexed, including this seemingly-neutral publication, the Business Insider Journal.  Well, what does a business publication know about sports?  True, only the those other than the most diehard of Louisville fans had to think… “hmmm, that was a bit quick.” Second, Syracuse fans remain utterly-perturbed with the series of calls that led to starting guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche fouling out, with the most-severe ire addressed to the latter.   Of course, the talking heads commenting after the game noted that the call was blown.   Third, regardless of who you were rooting for, the block called against Trey Burke was simply absurd.  The best anyone can do is argue that it did not “cost” Michigan the game.  Or “tarnish” what was a great basketball game.

Now, the Confidential is going to say this slowly.  And in bold.  Wichita State, Syracuse, and Michigan have nothing to complain about.  Play as if you are going to have a few bad calls go against you.  Assume it.  That first half turnover cost you as much as that late game blown call.  Those missed free throws.  That ill advised shot.  You lost.  

But let’s not pretend that the officiating is not a problem.  We have inconsistencies within games now.  It used to be that “they are calling a tight game” meant something.  Now you get games where they call nothing for 30 minutes and get foul happy down the stretch.  And, of course, vice-versa.  Nobody can dispute that charges are called too often now.  We still see fouls called on the expectation that there would be contact, rather than the reality.  And so on.

And it’s not just basketball.  Did you see this call in baseball the other night?  Wow.

This is not to say that the referees aren’t doing the best job that they can.  They work hard, perhaps too hard.  Some are out-of-shape, but most are fit enough to keep up with the athletes.  We have had few scandals to question integrity.  The best officials seem to be the ones that everybody hates.  That means something–usually the toughness to make a call that the 5 to 110 thousand people in the building might not like.

But is this the best that sports can do?  Of course not.  We can do better than people.  They are called robots.  Let’s call them refbots.

Sure, refbots have not been invented yet.   To our knowledge.  But we have computers that can win at Jeopardy.  We have had line calls made automatically in tennis for years.  Isn’t this the solution?  Take it out of the hands of flawed humans, and put it into a programmable robot.  The program can be changed to reflect rule changes.  You can have many robots calling a basketball game–all working various angles together to ensure that the right call is made.  Instead of wondering whether one of the three guys will get there, technology will make sure someone is in position.  In fact, isn’t it more surprising we do not have this technology yet???  Even so, the technology has to be inevitable.

What do you think?  Assuming we could design robots to call games with far more accuracy and consistency, would you want that?  Or do you prefer the human error component?

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10 thoughts on “When Will We Get Refbots?

  1. Vinnie Saltine on said:

    I’m not sure how refbots could work in basketball since so much of the BS calls are touch fouls that every team but Louisville gets called for, but there should be something in baseball to officiate the strike zone.

    One suggestion that I had was to put three cameras around home plate (one looking down on home, and two on either sides of the plate). This would be able to track a pitch and verify that the ball crossed over the plate (top angle) and was within the hitter’s strike zone (one of the other two cameras depending on if it’s a RH or LH batter).

    Another Umpire, sitting in a control room with monitors of the three camera angles could then watch the two monitors simultaneouslyand quickly determine if the ball was a strike. The Umpire at home plate would wear an earpiece and the information from the other official would be transmitted and announced that way.

    For obvious calls (swinging strikes, errant pitches, etc…) there would be no need for verification.

    This is basically how every person currently watches baseball on tv; and gets the best angles. By contrast, the people with the worst angles are those that are actually playing/officiating the game.

    • I am not so sure that a combination of all the camera angles could not do just fine on its own. All of these calls have been demonstrated wrong by some camera angle. You are right–what a shame that the people making the calls are precluded from having them.

      • Vinnie Saltine on said:

        I am not so sure that a combination of all the camera angles could not do just fine on its own.

        The double-negatives in that sentence are Lebron James-esque…

        Also, per the request of Toledo football fans everyone, please include HD cameras that conclusively track the ball and do not “distort” in any way, shape, or form.

  2. LenVILLE on said:

    Wouldn’t it be simpler just to have a replay ref who watches the monitors and has the authority to over rule bad calls? I think that could work for all sports. Let’s just make sure they aren’t BE refs, they had a hard time determining if a field goal was good or not on slow motion replay this past season.

    • The one thing I left out was how it is unfair to the winning team when a bad call is made. People should have been talking about Louisville’s comeback, not the call. People should have been talking about Michigan’s resiliency against Syracuse. Louisville’s rally against Michigan and surviving the second-half. And so on. We see this time and time again.

    • Vinnie Saltine on said:

      I agree that replay should be used more, but what good does it do if the refs interpreting it still suck?

      Case-in-point is the double-foul between Wichita St. & Louisville; Baker gets knocked over and hit in the face in the process (I believe it was by Hancock). Most fans watching the game said, “flagrant 1” but the refs instead called it a double foul and the game continued.

      That was just another of many shitty calls that benefitted Louisville.

      Perhaps we just need to accept that the universe wanted Louisville to win the NCAAs at any cost and were willing to use feeble minded refs in the process.

  3. LenVILLE on said:

    I may wrong since I only saw the replay once but what I saw on that double foul call was Baker hooking I believe Hancock around the back with his arm and pulled him down with him. From what I saw he didn’t have much of a choice but to fall on top of him. Now I will agree that it was a quick held ball call late in the game against Wichita St. There were bad calls both ways thruout the Final Four, tournament and season.

    • Vinnie Saltine on said:

      It was Van Treese:

      It was definitely a bang-bang play, and neither player really had complete balance or control, but it looks like Van Treese did not have his position set and effectively ran into Baker and then Baker was pulled-down by Van Treese’s arm (as he was stepping into Baker). Not seen as well from that angle is when Van Treese’s hand connected with Baker’s face as he did his best “His face ran into my swinging arms”.

  4. Vinnie Saltine on said:

    And here you go… Not that this is a huge surprise, everyone predicted that the Louisville/Michigan match-up would be much more of a draw than any combination with Wichita St. and/or Syracuse; perhaps those mysterious calls were truly all about ensuring high ratings.


    NCAA men’s basketball title game wins ratings

    NEW YORK (AP) — Unlike the men’s basketball championship game itself, there was no contest in the ratings. Louisville’s gripping victory over Michigan to win the NCAA tournament was easily the most popular event on prime-time television last week.

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