The NCAA basketball tournament, every year, highlights everything that’s great about sports. There’s drama. Sacrifice. And guts.

Which is weird. Because on Monday, the biggest game of a tournament in which there is so much that is oh-so-right, showcased a part of sports that is oh-so-wrong.

Monday night was thrilling. Virginia won its first men’s basketball championship, holding off Texas Tech 85-77. In overtime. After needing a 3-pointer in the closing seconds just to force the extra period. It was wild.

And yet, there was a blemish on an otherwise sparkling conclusion. And it came in the form of a few blurry frames of over-scrutinized video.

With 1:06 to go in overtime and Virginia up 75-73, a shot by the Cavaliers’ Ty Jerome missed and was deflected into the backcourt, toward the other end line. Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti ran down the loose ball. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter poked it away and out of bounds. Red Raider ball. Momentum swing.

But nope. A slowed-down, grainy replay showed that maybe…the ball kind of…seemed to stay on Moretti’s palm, and nick his pinky on the way out of bounds. It took that hardwood Zapruder work for the officials to change their minds. Virginia ball.

Later in the possession, Virginia hit a pair of free throws. Texas Tech never got within a possession again.

The officials weren’t wrong. At least, not factually. It did look like the ball went off Moretti’s hand. Had the call gone the other way originally, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to overturn.

But the call didn’t go the other way. And that shouldn’t be the point of replay. Replay is there to correct the obvious mistake, not search for a reason to change an uncertain call. It’s there to make sure a player doesn’t hit a game-winning shot when his foot is 10 inches out of bounds. Or that a player doesn’t score a deciding touchdown when he’s down and the ball is a yard shy of the goal line.

Just ask Armando Galarraga if replay has a purpose. Or a 24-year-old Tom Brady at a snowy Foxboro Stadium in January 2002. Officials are human. They make mistakes. Sometimes they make massive mistakes, and in massive moments. That’s what replay is there for.

What it’s not there for — or, at least, what it shouldn’t be there for — is the play that was put under the microscope Monday. A play you need to watch 15 times to see if there’s a case for the call to go the other way.

If it’s obvious, change it. If it’s not, if you can’t tell within a couple of seconds whether the call was right or wrong, and if you find yourself fast-forwarding and rewinding more than a football coach at a film session, keep it. And keep the game moving.

Monday’s play was hardly alone in this. We see this over-zealous use of replay all the time, no matter the sport. Officials analyze whether a batter’s foot touched the base a heartbeat before the ball got to the glove. Or whether a hockey player’s skate blade was on the line or off the line by a centimeter when deliberating an offsides call.

Or whether the ball touched Julian Edelman’s thumb or shoulder on a punt in the AFC championship game. As was the case Monday, officials in that game seemed to have the call right at first — that Edelman muffed the punt return and the Chiefs got the ball. And the first few replays seemed to confirm it. But then, there was one replay where the ball seemed to miss Edelman’s finger. And then another where it seemed to miss his shoulder. And, voila. Patriots ball.

That call should have been kept the way it was. And if it had been ruled originally that Edelman never touched it, then that call should have stood. It wasn’t easy to tell either way. Replay shouldn’t be forensics work.

That’s what it’s become, however, and as the major sports become more and more dependent on replay, we see the drawbacks. One is the damage analyzing each play does on the pace of the game. Games are long enough as it is, but the dramatic flow is also compromised when play is stopped, the officials go and look at the play, and minutes later, a decision is made. Spontaneous drama is what drives sports, and big plays shouldn’t feel like court verdicts.

More importantly, though, there’s not always a benefit to the process. Supposedly, these time-sapping reviews are what’s needed to get the play exactly, 100 percent, indisputably right, but that’s not always the outcome. There’s always one angle that shows the runner is safe and another that shows he’s out, or one that shows the ball touching the turf and another showing glove underneath. And then the official has to make a gut call anyway.

Of course, we’re going in the wrong direction on this. The NFL just signed off on pass interference reviews, so ostensibly a multitude of pass plays, complete or incomplete, will be looked at in the final minutes of the game.

Fun!

Sports are imperfect. Embrace it. Why get bogged down in minutia, especially when a long and complicated review leaves you no closer to a certainty than you were before?

So how about giving the replay a rest? Sports leagues, the ball is in your court.

Or, at least, I think it is. Hold on, guess we have to check the replay…

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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