March 22, 2011

Tuesdays with Corey: Wharton Non-Goal Makes Case for Instant Replay

by Corey McLaughlin | | NCAA 'Dive Rule' (PDF)


Why isn't instant replay used in college lacrosse? Specifically, why not at least a limited use of replay for televised games?

This was the thought that dawned on me while watching ESPNU replays of Kyle Wharton's non-goal Saturday night in the first overtime of Johns Hopkins' eventual double-overtime loss at Syracuse.

I could not care less which team won, but shouldn't the referees have access to the same footage I'm watching in my apartment? They could use a second look, more than me or anyone else watching from home.

Whether the crease violation called on Wharton as he dove from goal-line extended was the correct call is still being debated by fans on both sides. The violation was a tough judgment call made on the field in real time. "The dive"call really came down to if Wharton was or was not illegally pushed or checked by defenseman Tom Guadagnolo into the crease.

The call on the field — that Wharton was not pushed or checked and entered the crease under his own power – may have been wrong, or could have been correct. It depends on if you wear blue or bleed orange. From the replay angle provided Saturday, it's hard for me to determine without a doubt that Wharton was attempting to move up on the crease and not into it — or would have not landed in the crease, anyway — before Guadagnolo hit him.

ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra, who called the game Saturday night live from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, explained his view Monday after watching multiple replays.

"The type of underneath move [Wharton] was making was going to most likely force him to leave his feet and fall near the crease area regardless if he was pushed or not," Carcaterra said. "That makes it so difficult to judge whether or not it was the contact made from the defender -- and position of the defender -- that forced him in the crease after the ball crossed the plane.

"Contact was made," he said, "and almost always is by defenders to some degree when offensive players are attacking near the crease area. This is a complete judgment call, whether the level of contact constitutes a push. The amount of contact that was made was not blatant to the point that it was an obvious push in real time. After watching the replay, I would lean towards calling it a push, but understand how the referee did not make that call in real time."

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala's frustrated view was clear during a slow-motion replay of the words coming out of his mouth on the sideline. "That's bull----," he said. Funny, that was shown on replay, too, heading into a commercial break.

While review of Wharton's non-goal may not be conclusive in this case, the larger question is: Why shouldn't officials at least have the chance to give on-field plays a look, like me, Carcaterra and the rest of the viewership had? See if they got it right, or see if there is clear evidence to tell them that they were wrong? I'm always surprised that referees are able to make in-the-crease calls or judgments on dive plays like Wharton's. It must be tough to look at feet, when the ball breaks the goal-line plane and when the player lands, while you're supposed to also be looking high for holds, pushes or illegal checks.

The technology is there for replay as we've seen in other sports. Seconds after the play happened, replays were shown on screen.

In the grand scheme, relatively few college games are televised, and some would argue about unfairness or bias toward the big-time teams that get TV games. Why should they have replay while other teams do not? The idea, however, is to get the calls on the field right, if possible.

Smart people at ESPN, other networks and the NCAA can make replay happen, as they have in some college sports, such as football and basketball. If lacrosse is going to continue to fill airtime like those sports, it should be treated the same as them, even if it's not nearly that kind of moneymaker yet.

Hopkins' Kyle Wharton has been known to push the boundaries of the crease. Question is, was he pushed into the crease by Syracuse's Tom Guadagnolo? ESPNU's Paul Carcaterra "would lean towards calling it a push, but understand how the referee did not make that call in real time."

Why screw up the outcome of a game if you don't have to? Why move the men's championship closer to primetime, only to not provide the best product? Why bring in what has to be an expensive Skycam for championship weekend, and not have replay ability?

Pro football, hockey, basketball and even baseball have endorsed at least a limited form of replay. A good system for college and pro lacrosse – Major League Lacrosse might be a great place to start this – would be a system similar to the NHL. Review important plays around the goal. Basically, goals or non-goals. Crease violations for apparent goals would fall into this category. They happen too fast.

My rough draft of a proposal is this: Reviews could come from an officials' booth in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime. Coaches could have one or two challenges at their disposal during the rest of the game. Maybe test it out in fall ball or do a behind-the-scenes dry run during the NCAA tournament, when every game is televised.

As far as disrupting the current pace of the game, my guess is few would want officials constantly having to watch replays or having someone in the press box or an office somewhere in another part of the country constantly calling for reviews and slowing down the game. Some would argue the college game is slow enough, and not the "fastest game on two feet" by any means -- such as Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who has called for a shot clock and perhaps the elimination of the faceoff.

To this point, reviews would need to be requested before the team with the ball takes another shot, or before the opposing team brings possession into the attack zone after a clear. Kind of like how reviews must be called before the next play from scrimmage in the NFL.

What should be reviewable (if a shot at the end of the quarter beat the buzzer, offsides, 30-second counts, etc.) can be debated. But this should be done in some form. The game, at its peak and in pressure situations in the final minutes of a one-goal game or a tie game in overtime, does take on an added element of pressure for everyone, including referees. Just like the last seconds of an NBA game, where officials can go to a sideline television monitor to check tenths of a second.

It seems discussion for drastic changes only happen when something terrible or egregiously wrong happens on the biggest stage, like a national championship game. Let's end that before we get there. I would hate for viewers at home on Memorial Day to know before the referees that this year's national championship-winning goal should have been disallowed.

As long as television has been broadcasting lacrosse games is as long as instant replay has been overdue.

High Five

By now you've heard of Saturday's Division I men's lacrosse upsets: Delaware over Hofstra, Towson over Stony Brook, Penn State over UMass and Penn over Princeton (borderline upset).

Click here for a blog on five games this week that have upset alert potential.

Tweet of the Week

Click here to read why Curtis Dickson thinks Brian Karalunas is one of the most underrated players in lacrosse.

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