Being the sports nut that I am, instant replay has been either a godsend that confirmed my original thoughts on how a certain play turned out or a source of grief when things didn’t go my way. Of course most sports enthusiasts will take a certain joy in watching a miraculous golf shot, spectacular catches, buzzer beating baskets, game winning goals or touchdowns no matter who you’re rooting for.

It’s hard to believe but back in the early days of television there was no such thing as instant replay. It wasn’t put to use until 1963 during the annual Army-Navy football game and then it was used only once during the game to show the winning touchdown. Sports haven’t been the same since.

In its infancy instant replay was shown at regular speed. With some tinkering here and there it wasn’t long before slow motion and super slow motion came in to being. As technology got more and more advanced we can now view our favorite plays frame by frame from almost every conceivable angle.

Not only has instant replay been a cause for celebration it has also changed the face of many sports. Close calls can now be overturned upon official review. Let’s take a look at some of the major sports and how instant replay has affected the game itself.

American Baseball

First adopted by the league for the start of the 2008 season instant replay is only used to review and overturn umpire calls in only three circumstance. One is to determine if a home run is either fair or foul. The second is also used for home runs and determines whether the ball actually left the field of play. The third circumstance is to determine if fan interference had any effect on the play.

Lately there have been calls to expand the use of instant replay. The most talked about are balls that are fair or foul but are not home runs and to determine if a runner is safe or out on a close play at any base. Other uses would be to determine if a player made a catch of a fly ball before it hit the ground.

Update May 2014

As of 2014 instant replay debuted this season to be used to dispute safe/out calls in addition to home run reviews. There's a challenge system in place, giving the manager of each team an opportunity to invoke a video review of a play which may or may not go his team's way. MLB has a dedicated video umpiring crew specifically to handle these challenges.

American Football

When it comes to American Football the use of instant replay far outpaces any other sport. Here’s a list of what play are reviewable by the officials during a game.

  • Any scoring plays
  • Pass complete/incomplete/intercepted
  • Runner/receiver out of bounds
  • Recovery of a loose ball in or out of bounds
  • Touching of a forward pass, either by an ineligible receiver or a defensive player
  • Quarterback pass or fumble
  • Illegal forward pass
  • Forward or backward pass
  • Runner ruled not down by contact
  • Forward progress in regard to a first down
  • Touching of a kickoff or punt
  • Other plays involving spotting of the football
  • Whether a legal number of players is on the field at the time of the snap

    In addition, coaches of either team are allowed up to two “challenges” when they think a ref might have blown a call. They do so by throwing a red flag on the field. Once the “challenge” has been issued the referee has one minute to review the play and make their decision. If the “challenge” is successful the original call will be overturned. If the “challenge” is unsuccessful the team that issued the “challenge” will be charged with a timeout.

    My personal feelings regarding instant replay in the NFL are mixed. While I think it’s good to get the call right the whole challenging process sometimes brings the game to a grinding halt and one is subject to what seems like an endless stream of annoying commercials.

    American Basketball

    One would think that basketball would be simple enough. The ball either goes through the hoop or it doesn’t. All of that changed in 2003 when a playoff game was decided incorrectly because the ball left the players hand a split second after time had expired. The refs missed the call and the game was decided incorrectly. During the following season instant replay was put in place to determine if any time was still on the clock before the ball left the players hand.

    In 2007 the use of instant replay was used to determine whether a player had committed a “flagrant foul”. The league also uses it to dish out fines and suspensions for said fouls and for any ensuing fights.

    In 2008 instant replay was also put into practice to determine whether a player had made a two or three point shot.

    Instant replay is also a factor during college basketball’s annual tournament known as March Madness. Many of those games are close or tied as they come down the stretch and each team is vying for the final shot. The goal is get the proverbial “buzzer beater” that allows your team to win and leave no time left on the clock for your opponent.

    National Hockey League

    With pucks flying around the ice at speeds upwards of one hundred miles per hour instant replay has been crucial in determining whether a goal stands or is negated. Although neither team can challenge a referee’s decision all goals are subject to review and must meet the following criteria.

  • Did the entire puck completely cross the goal line?
  • Did the puck go into the net before the buzzer sounded indicating the end of the period/game?
  • Did the puck enter the net before the net itself was knocked off its standings?
  • Was the puck intentionally directed into the net by a players hand or foot?
  • Did the puck go into the net after deflecting off an official?
  • Was the puck deflected into the net by a “high stick”?

    Since hockey is one of the few sports in which players don’t get automatically ejected from a game for fighting some nasty shit takes place on the ice. This is especially true during the playoffs when the stakes are high and the tempers fierce. The NHL will use instant replay to review certain plays and often fine/suspend a player for conduct that was not detected by the referees during a game


    With the outcome of matches being decided by a matter of inches regarding whether a ball was in or out, instant replay seemed like a natural. It wasn’t until 2008 that all of the major tennis association agreed to a standard set of rules. Players are allowed up to three unsuccessful challenges of a judge’s decision during each set. If the match goes to a tie breaker each player is allowed a fourth challenge

    There are some other sports that I'm not so familiar with such as rugby, rodeo, cricket and NASCAR that also utilize instant replay in one form or another to ensure that a judge’s decision is correct.

    Say what?

    Amazingly, the most popular sport in the world does not make use of instant replay. This was especially telling during this years World Cup tournament held in South Africa. As I was watching the games there were so many blown or missed calls regarding off sides rulings and goals scored that it was almost comical.

    Back in 2005 here’s what the head of FIFA had to say regarding the use of instant replay.

    Players, coaches and referees all make mistakes. It's part of the game. It's what I would call the "first match". What you see after the fact on video simply doesn't come into it; that's the "second match", if you like. Video evidence is useful for disciplinary sanctions, but that's all. As we've always emphasised at FIFA, football's human element must be retained. It mirrors life itself and we have to protect it.

    I’m betting after the poor performance of the officials during the latest World Cup they might be re-thinking their options.


    Countless hours watching sports at home or at my local watering hole.
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