With improvements in sports officiating such as allowing challenges, appeals, and/or reviews of calls on the field, will any major sport do away with human officiating?

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Instant replay has become ubiquitous in all refereed sports. Coaches and managers can challenge calls by referees and umpires, and the number of calls subject to challenge is expanding. Technology can show us the outline of a baseball strike zone, allowing viewers to judge for themselves if the umpire called a pitch correctly. Football passes can be ruled a catch or a no-catch based on reviewing numerous videotaped camera shots. Sensors in tennis are used on the court lines to prove if a shot was in or out. Because of the money involved in winning or losing games, tournaments, and championships, it’s logical to want biased or inconsistent officiating to have as small an impact as possible on the outcome of the game.

Although computerized or robotic officiating makes sense from the standpoint of increased accuracy in the calls, I doubt the technology exists yet to replace human referees and umpires with computers. If it did, my primary concern is that computer officiating would add too much time to steadily lengthening contests.

Baseball games that lasted a little over two hours fifty years ago routinely chew up three to four hours today. Football games last a good half hour more than they did a generation ago. Hockey games are edging closer to the three-hour mark. And playoff games add even more time than regular-season contests.

Computerized officiating only makes sense if it improves the pace of a game, or at least doesn’t significantly add time. Still, extra time due to official challenges is only one reason games are longer. But adding more time to a game because of computerized refereeing will drive casual viewers away and annoy all but the most loyal fans.

Another concern is with calling penalties. In most sports, those are subjective calls made by referees who can usually decipher intent on penalties such as personal fouls in football, unsportsmanlike conduct, or whether a baseball pitcher is intentionally trying to hit a batter rather than just throwing a pitch that gets away from his control.

Video reviews of disputed plays show that most of the times the human official did indeed make the correct call. Unfortunately, sometimes a championship is incorrectly decided because the official made the wrong call. I can see technology expanding and thereby improving the accuracy of officiating a sport, but the time factor and lack of ability of computers to make judgment calls suggest humans will be officiating sports for a long time to come.


Gastonia, NC Correspondent-For reasons similar to those determining why self-driving cars won’t be ubiquitous anytime soon, I can’t see any professional sport ever abandoning human referees on the field, diamond or rink.  We have instant replay now to double-check the calls made by the human refs, but the humans have to make those calls in the first place, and it’s their eyes and ears that perform functions that no computer program, no matter how sophisticated, could ever duplicate.

Any football savant will tell you that holding of one kind or another can be called on pretty much any play in any football game.  It takes a human ref to understand that sometimes that grab or hold is a function of two bodies in motion, not any intent on the part of a player.  Also, certain players are known for exaggerating damage done to them or “flopping” after the slightest contact, especially in soccer and basketball. John Stockton was one of the ultimate masters at creating fouls. During the years of the rivalry between the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz, I would frequently be driven to fits of apoplexy by Stockton’s boneless flops when a Rockets player so much as passed near him.  No AI of which I’m aware would be prepared to take such acting ability into account.

The one sport in which robot officiating might work is baseball.  Balls and strikes are fairly straightforward, and whether or not someone is out is a matter of seeing the ball and the runner simultaneously, which a computer actually might do better than the humans on the field. But then we’d be deprived of the cheap-seats theater of a manager storming from the dugout and berating an umpire, kicking dirt on his shoes and eventually getting sent to the showers.  It’s annoying, but it’s a beloved part of the game.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-Sure! The camera will ALWAYS see better/more than the human eye. So why not, let’s suck all the fun out of arguing about whether the ref made the right call.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m being sarcastic. Of course, the camera would make a better referee. Arguing with your friends about whether they were in bounds, or they made the right call is just part of the fun of watching the game. If you remove that then you might as well just post the scores after the fact…no real point in watching.

The only positive would be that the camera would ALWAYS be impartial. We wouldn’t have to worry about the camera “being paid off”. Not a big enough issue for me to want to give our referees the boot.

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