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So, look: Televised sports face an impossible dilemma these days.
Huge technological advancements to TV broadcasts bring us more camera angles, sharper imagery, and slower motion replays, but the people officiating the games remain human. Bad calls that might have been shrugged off 15 years ago are immediately and comprehensively dissected by anyone with access to the footage, and now everyone has access to the footage. Game action comes at newfound heights and quicker speeds as professional sports draw on deeper talent pools to find bigger, stronger and faster athletes, and there’s simply no way for refs and umpires to keep up with the pace.
According to multiple reports Tuesday, the NBA Board of Governors voted to add coaches’ replay challenges to basketball games. As our Andrew Joseph pointed out, replay reviews already tend to slow NBA action to a sloth’s pace at key moments late in games, and the amount of subjectivity inherent in NBA officiating calls — “block or charge?” — makes the incorporation of forced reviews seem like a potential nightmare for refs and fans alike.
If you read this newsletter, you know I watch a heck of a lot of Major League Baseball. And while I was all in favor of MLB rolling out its replay-review system back in 2014, the past half-decade has exposed unforeseen and immensely frustrating issues.
It takes too long, is the main thing. Baseball — far more than basketball — is hampered by pace-of-play issues, and replay challenges too often force fans to sit through multi-minute pauses while umpires stand around listening on headsets as another umpire, elsewhere, examines their split-second decision. And sometimes they still get it wrong! Limiting the number of times a manager can call for a review is not nearly enough of a penalty to prevent specious reviews, so managers sometimes call for ridiculous and dumb reviews.
In October of 2016, the Blue Jays appeared to secure a thrilling, walk-off, series-deciding ALDS win over a Rangers team they vehemently hated. But they had to halt their on-field celebration while umpires, at Rangers manager Jeff Banister’s behest, waited to determine that Edwin Encarnacion’s slide into second base on the play was legal. Russell Martin called it “anticlimactic.” Josh Donaldson called it “a buzzkill.” I was there. It was both those things.
And I’m not sure there’s any way to put that cat back into the bag. For the sake of fans, teams, players and refs, it’s good that sports leagues are committed to getting calls right, and it feels like there’s no way to renege on that commitment once it has been made. There are places where leagues could probably incorporate more automation. But until there’s way to do replay challenges that doesn’t involve forcing everyone to watch as officials squint at a monitor or squeeze headsets to their ears, replay challenges, from an aesthetic standpoint, simply suck.
They suck. They’re boring. I want the calls to be correct, but I don’t want to watch that sausage get made. They’re a fine idea in concept but a horrendous one in execution, and I have no idea whatsoever how many league might find a way to take some of the HD-replay-and-internet onus off officials without significantly slowing the action. Life was simpler when everything was worse and we knew less.
Tuesday’s big winner: Tacko Fall
The 7-foot-6 former UCF center has emerged as a full-blown sensation in the NBA Summer League, delighting crowds with his soft hands and surprising agility and, of course, his extreme height. This man is so very, very tall. It’s not clear there’s space for him on the Celtics’ regular season roster or under various low-hanging tree branches.
Quick hits: Freeman, Selig, Serena
– This is fun: During the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night, Freddie Freeman wore a mic and an earpiece for his at-bat against Justin Verlander. As Andy Nesbitt argued, this should obviously happen more often. Specifically, I want to hear Freddie Freeman narrate every single one of his at-bats, the whole time begging catchers for more fastballs, all, “say, you should throw me a heater. How ’bout a heater for ol’ Fred Freeman?”
– Bud Selig bore this burden for all of us.
– Serena Williams cooled down between Wimbledon matches by riding an exercise bike with her adorable daughter. Olympia Ohanian is almost the exact same age as my kid, and her vast online presence suggests they have mutual interests in swings and slides.
– Charles Curtis looked at the way supermax contracts have proven a noble failure in the NBA. At least they’re better than the Knicks, an ignoble failure.
Weird sport Wednesday: Tuk Tuk Polo
In many parts of the world, tuk tuks — also known as auto rickshaws — are an extremely common form of transportation. In Sri Lanka, they’re also used to play polo. Based on some quick Googling, it’s not clear at all if tuk tuk polo is an actual sport anyone plays or just one sparsely attended annual event beloved by videographers. There are license plates on the tuk tuks and it appears the players are using tuk tuks that also serve as for-hire vehicles, which means they’re pretty cautious when using them for polo. That’s sensible and safe on the drivers’ part, but it’s also ruining tuk tuk polo as a spectator sport. Tuk Tuk Polo needs an angel investor, some sort of formal governing body, and fully armored tuk tuks to add a demolition-derby element to the game.
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