Derby Controversy A Reminder Video Doesn't Always Provide Maximum Security

Disqualifying winner another sign that video's power to influence sports outcomes is ever-expanding

I don’t know enough about horse racing to say whether disqualifying Maximum Security was the right call.

My friend Pete, who’s a serious student of the ponies, thought the lane change should have been a Play-On because Country House, the horse that wound up being the winner, was not affected. I kind of think we’ll never know where War of Will, which wound up eighth, would have finished if it hadn’t been blocked.

I think we all hate to see the officials decide a sporting event.

On the other hand, rules are rules. It’s not as simple in my mind as saying the infraction didn’t affect the outcome. We really don’t know that.

Here’s what I do know. . .

This is the kind of messiness that no sporting event needs, let alone horse racing, which is getting pummeled by legalized gambling and younger generations who don’t know a Racing Form from a tax return. The biggest race on the planet mired in controversy? Yikes.

As Chris Schenkel said when Jack Nicklaus shanked his tee shot on the 12th hole at the 1963 Masters, ``Good gravy! That’s unbelievable!’’

This is also another reminder of the unintended consequences of scrutinizing the videotape to ``get it right.’’

We are seeing it more and more. We are to the point where the no-call on apparent pass interference, which sent the Rams to the Super Bowl and left the Saints marching out, forces the NFL to alter its instant-replay-review policy.

And that’s a good thing.

I always go back to the time before decisions could be altered by further review.

There was a time, a couple or three decades ago, when instant replay would show an obvious mistake that was not correctible: A trapped third-and-six reception that was ruled a seven-yard catch, a runner who had slid under a tag being called out at home plate.

I remember covering a Blackhawks hockey game in Winnipeg where a long slapshot went in and out of the net so quickly that the referee missed it. And there was no recourse.

At the NCAA tournament, they simply blacked out the replays on the arena video board to prevent rioting by the live audience.

My thought always was, ``The officials should have the ability to correct the obvious mistake that anybody who is watching on their couch can see.’’

This was a sentiment shared by the late David Parry, a longtime NFL referee who was the Big Ten supervisor of officials when the conference was pioneering the use of replay review to correct mistakes.

``There were many missed calls over the years but nobody noticed,’’ he told me. ``They were honest mistakes. But that becomes unacceptable when you have cameras everywhere showing those mistakes.’’

I don't know that there was a similar blocking incident in a long-ago Kentucky Derby. But I'm guessing there was. And I'm very comfortable with saying lack of technology would have ruled out a disqualification.

Since then, the sports world has waded ever deeper into the world of replay review. It initially limited what could be reviewed and how it could be reviewed. Gradually the powers to reverse calls have been expanded. And expanded.

I always get a kick out of the broadcasters reminding us that ``There needs to be indisputable video evidence’’ to change a call. . . while we are watching a freeze-frame of a fingertip possibly touching a basketball, or the edge of a football cleat possibly touching a blade of white sideline grass.

Indisputable, I believe, often is in the eye of the beholder.

That said, there’s no turning back. And I wouldn’t want to.

I tend to think that if you have to pore over a close-up of a replay in a shaded area without blinking, that’s not exactly indisputable.

Still, I can live with that stuff as long as they do it quickly. Which, as we all know, they cannot do.

The next big electronic frontier, I believe, is the strike zone in baseball. That is still a hot-button issue. I understand the resistance of traditionalists. And I wonder how that would work for the home-plate umpire, who would need to signal the call, I suppose, after receiving it.

There is also the issue of determining the strike zone of each batter, which is not as cut-and-dried as inbounds/out-of-bounds or catch/no-catch.

And yet, between the strike calls that umpires miss because of honest mistakes and the ones they miss because of their ``personal’’ interpretations of the strike zone, I suspect the electronic strike zone will happen someday.

If video scrutiny can overturn the winning of the Kentucky Derby, everything is on the table.

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