'Nobody Wants to Be Wrong' Strikes At Heart of NFL and NBA Replay Issues

Liam McKeone
Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three
Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three / J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Coach's challenges have been introduced into the NBA for the first time this season. So far? Not so good. There have already been several examples of very bad calls not getting overturned despite a coach's challenge and review, and Doc Rivers voiced his frustration about the matter after such an example earlier this week-- and in the process, hit the nail on the head in regards to why the system may be fundamentally flawed.

Rivers challenged an offensive foul call on Lou Williams against Eric Bledsoe, and upon replay, it was abundantly clear there was no contact and Bledsoe flopped his way to the foul.

Rivers was displeased, to say the least, when the call was not overturned upon review, and had this to say after the game:

""That was awful," Rivers said afterward. "It was. They should've overturned it. That's why I hate the rule. Nobody wants to be wrong. Let me just say that. You have to overturn that. Unless Bledsoe fouled Lou with his face, there was no foul on that play.""

"Nobody wants to be wrong," is the heart of the issue in challenges across all sports, but particularly in football and (now) basketball. Much has been made of the NFL's new pass interference challenge rules and how rarely they're overturned. This stat from NFL Research sums it up nicely.

Given the expected and understandable margin of human error when it comes to officiating live sports, the percentage of overturned calls should be much higher. I don't think even the refs themselves would claim they get the call right nine times out of ten. Officiating is an inexact science, and the replay rules are supposed to help narrow that margin of error. But stubbornness is as human a trait as our propensity for error.

As bad as the NFL has been about this, the NBA examples are more striking visually. Thursday night brought another such instance in the Heat-Suns game, where Jimmy Butler was called for a ghost foul and the play was upheld after review.

In real time, it's easy to understand how that was called a foul. It is significantly less easy to understand why it wasn't overturned upon review. There's just no reason for that to stand by the rules that govern the game-- but, as Rivers said, nobody likes to be wrong.

Last year's NFC Championship Game was every sports league's worst nightmare. The worst possible call was made (or, rather, not made) at the worst possible time and changed the outcome of not only the game, but the entire season for the league as a whole. It led directly to the new replay rules instituted in the NFL this year, and you can bet the NBA was watching the fallout closely as they considered whether or not to introduce coach's challenges to their game. Fans want to see them as a necessary evil; it slows down the game and won't always go the way you want, but it's more important to get it right. But that just hasn't been happening.

Maybe I'm all wrong about this. Perhaps the replay centers won't overturn calls just because they interpret the rules differently than everyone watching and playing the game, or they're just incompetent. But is that much better than refusing to overturn because they want to make a point that they'll stand with the original call, almost no matter what? I'm not sure, and it'll be worth monitoring as both leagues progress into their respective seasons.