A whole lot of people spent the first part of this week complaining about instant replay. I was on jury duty. Same thing, really. They're both inefficient, slow, annoying and not guaranteed to produce the truth.
But all of a sudden I have a whole bunch of friends in Oklahoma who agree with me that instant replay is a blight on the republic. Funny how having your ox gored once can galvanize the mind. Not to mention what it does for the ox.
Here's what happened, in case you've been sequestered: Oklahoma lost a football game at Oregon Saturday partly because of two blown calls by the officials, and then compounding failures by the replay officials to overturn those blown calls, at least one of which was beyond obvious on replay at the time.
The Ducks had scored a touchdown to make the score 33-27 Sooners with 1:12 left in the game. Oregon then recovered an onside kick. Instant replay clearly showed that a Duck had touched the ball before it had traveled 10 yards, which should have resulted in Oklahoma being awarded possession. The Sooners could have run out the clock for the win.
Inexplicably, the play wasn't overturned, but just for good measure, replays also showed that Oklahoma had actually recovered the ball, which is also the sort of thing for which teams are usually rewarded with possession. Unfortunately for the Sooners, who recovers the kick is not reviewable.
That's because -- wait, I have no idea why that is. If instant replay is designed to get to the truth, why are some things reviewable and others not? Who recovers a ball isn't a judgment call.
Oregon's subsequent drive was aided by a pass interference call against Oklahoma. This one wasn't as clear, but it sure looked like the pass had been deflected at the line of scrimmage, which would have negated the interference call because once the ball is touched, the defender is no longer barred from hitting the receiver.
The replay officials declared that the replays didn't contain irrefutable proof of the deflection, the penalty stood and Oregon drove for the winning touchdown, 34-33. Do keep in mind, though, as you listen to Oklahomans whining, that the Sooners still could have won the game, but they had a 44-yard field-goal attempt at the gun blocked.
The Pac-10 conference, which provided officials for the game, reacted by acknowledging the error on the kick call, apologizing to Oklahoma and suspending both the on-field and replay crew for one game.
Oklahoma overreacted. The university president, David Boren, sent a letter to Big 12 conference commissioner Kevin Weiberg asking Weiberg to lobby for the removal of the Oklahoma-Oregon game from the record books.
"To describe the lapses in accurate officiating at the Oklahoma-Oregon football game last Saturday as constituting an outrageous injustice is an understatement," Boren wrote.
Yeah, World War II internment camps, slavery, the poll tax, those were pretty bad. But the blown calls in the Oklahoma-Oregon game! Outrageous!
And don't even get me started on my having jury duty twice in four years.
What's really outrageous -- and keep in mind I agree with the Oklahoma people here that the officials screwed up and the Sooners should have won the game -- is a university president not just inserting himself into a public argument over the outcome of a football game, and not just doing so in the guise of a hotheaded fan, but advocating the rewriting of history to redress his grievance.
One of Boren's predecessors, George Lynn Cross, famously told the Legislature, "We want to build a university of which the football team can be proud." If Boren's making anybody proud with his suggestion, it's the Ministry of Truth.
Coach Bob Stoops has also been fuming in public all week, which is at least appropriate for his job title. At one point Stoops admitted that he has made a million mistakes, that "I'll make a million more in each game," and that he still finds the officiating mistakes Saturday "absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable."
His point was that while the officials made a mistake, the replay crew "had an opportunity to get it right and they chose not to." Stoops gets to make a million mistakes a game, apparently. Replay officials get an allowance of none.
The people allegedly sending death threats to replay official Gordon Riese and his family would seem to agree.
That's one of the problems with instant replay. People want it to be perfect, to cleanse the game of human error. When it doesn't, because it can't, because there's no escaping human error as long as humans are involved, people get doubly miffed.
As Stoops said, not only did the refs blow it, but the people charged with making sure the refs don't blow it blew it. Stoops can forgive the officiating mistake -- he makes a million of them every game, which is 278 mistakes per second. What he can't live with is the backstopping error.
And for this we have to keep interrupting the game? For this we've created a generation of timid, tentative referees?
Human error is beautiful. Human error gave us fireworks and potato chips and made Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton funny. It gave us the Long Count, the Immaculate Reception and Kansas City's only World Series title.
Human error should be guarded against in the specific but embraced in the general. I'm vigilant against typos, semicolons and other errors, but what could explain my having this job in the first place beyond some kind of cosmic mistake? How to explain that one person -- you know who I mean -- falling for your sorry ass? Human error, friends.
Oklahoma has continued its overreaction by threatening to pull out of a scheduled game at Washington in 2008 if the Pac-10 doesn't agree to change its policy of having Pac-10 crews work nonconference home games, a standard policy throughout college football.
That makes it sound like the Sooners believe the Pac-10 was actively cheating Saturday, as opposed to the officials simply making mistakes.
Cheating. There's another problem instant replay won't solve.
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