There’s been a lot of bellyaching this week from fans of the Premier League following the weekend’s VAR controversies. Scrap that, there’s been a lot of bellyaching this season from fans about VAR.
That’s right, after nearly three months of Video Assistant Referees in the Premier League, people have decided that it might be time to scrap the whole thing because it isn’t perfect.
Three months? That’s nothing! The NFL has had instant replay review since 1986 – that’s 33 years – and they’re still working out the kinks. With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of the gripes people have with VAR and then compare them to the NFL. You know what they say, be careful what you wish for!
Nobody understands ‘Clear and Obvious’
Until last weekend, VAR had yet to award a penalty in the Premier League. To overturn a decision VAR needs to be able to spot a “clear and obvious error” by the referee on the pitch, and the Video Assistant Refs were catching flak for the standard of clear and obvious being too high.
But this past week VAR went nuts, giving four penalties and throwing in a red card and a late disallowed goal for good measure. Now suddenly awarded goals are being disallowed even when things aren’t clear and obvious! Seems confusing?
How would you prefer three different levels of “clear and obvious” instead? When an NFL referee uses video review they can come back with three different grades of decision: Confirmed, Stands, and Overturned.
If the ruling on the field is confirmed it means the video showed exactly what the ref saw. If it doesn’t, it’s overturned as the video proved that the ref was wrong. So what’s the purpose of “the ruling on the field stands” category?
That’s for when the referee has seen the video replay and hasn’t enough evidence to either confirm the call on the field or to overturn it. In this case, the decision doesn’t change, so they created a refereeing Limbo to say that nobody understands exactly what Clear and Obvious means.
At least Premier League fans only have to deal with two outcomes.
VAR can review too many things
Right now VAR can only review four types of event: Goal/No Goal, Penalty/No Penalty, Straight red card and Mistaken Identity. Over the weekend, all the penalties and cards saw a number of Premier League fans and pundits say this is far too many and causes too much disruption and frustration to a game.
If you think four is too big a number, count your blessings.
The NFL can review 15 different circumstances using instant replay, and they range from the obvious (scoring plays) to the most recent addition, the incredibly contentious pass interference rule.
This is a challenge the league was so opposed to they’ve made the standard for overturning it almost impossibly high. Just seven of 40 were changed in the first six weeks of the season and coaches are even not bothering to challenge calls that look patently wrong because they know the refs won’t change their minds.
So the NFL is still adding new categories for review that they barely even use. Makes total sense.
Reviews take too long
There have been complaints that VAR takes too long to make a decision. Between the time Sokratis’ shot hit the net for Arsenal against Crystal Palace and the time the goal was ruled out by VAR, just under two minutes had passed.
This was to review a possible game-winning goal, and the whole thing was wrapped up in less time than it takes to type Sokratis’ full name.
The following night, the referees in the Miami Dolphins – Pittsburgh Steelers game gave a first down on 4th-and-1 run at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the spot of the ball, and the refs reviewed and conferred. And conferred. And conferred. For ten minutes. They actually re-spotted the ball and measured it short of a first down quickly, but then needed to discuss the decision for nearly the length of another half-time before the Steelers could start their drive.
This game was already a tough watch as Miami stink and the Steelers are not exactly Yankee Candle-pleasant themselves, so VAR complainers with their two-minute delay don’t know what real suffering is!
Fans in the stadium don’t know what’s going on
During a VAR review, there are no replays of incidents on screens inside the ground, and no audio from the ref regarding the decision-making process or the thoughts around it.
Surely the answer is simple: show the replay on the big screens and give the ref a mic, it’s 2019 for crying out loud!
Not so fast.
Take an example from earlier this month in the NFL. Indianapolis Colts receiver TY Hilton was flagged for offensive pass interference for standing up straight at the line of scrimmage with his hands up while a Chiefs defender pushed into him, all of which is permitted under the rules of the game.
The Colts coach challenged it (see: new 15th category of challenge above) but the ruling was inexplicably upheld (see “clear and obvious” standard, also above). The whole crowd saw the replay from different angles and the ref still explained over the stadium loudspeaker that there was insufficient evidence to change their ruling on the field.
And no fan came out of there any less confused.