Why Don't All Sports Use The NHL's 'Control Room' Replay Review System?

Last week, Katie Baker wrote over at Grantland about the 15 things that should never change about the NHL. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with Baker's list, I was more than a little surprised that she left off what I consider the one thing the NHL does better than any other professional sports league in North America: the way it handles replay reviews.

For those of you who are not NHL fans, let me do a quick rundown for you. The NHL has what it calls "The Control Room" — or "The War Room" — in Toronto, in which there are NHL officials tasked with watching what's going on in every game. When there is a controversial, review-worthy goal/no goal scoring play, the control room calls down to the ice of said game and reviews the replays in Toronto, quickly determining if the play was a goal or not a goal, as well as determining the appropriate amount of time that should be on the clock. The whole process takes about two minutes, just like it takes a replay or three for the fan at home to come to the proper conclusion. It's quick. It's painless. And it's pretty damn accurate.

The NHL's replay review system is far and away the most efficient in sports. For reasons unknown, the NBA, NFL and MLB do not do it this way. They do not each have their own control rooms in which league officials monitor every game and quickly make the correct replay reviews. Instead, in the NBA, the game crew of officials huddles around a small monitor and watches replay after replay after replay, taking forever to come to a final decision long after the fans watching at home have already seen what the proper call should be.

In the NFL, the head referee walks all the way across the field, puts his head under a shaded cover and watches a replay under that hood all by himself, ultimately deciding on whether or not the play has been confirmed, is upheld due to "a lack of video evidence" or gets overturned. It takes painfully long, and again, the viewer at home has already seen the replay about 10 times and knows what the proper call should be more times than not in a matter of seconds.

The MLB goes even further, taking its umpires off the field and down the tunnel to watch the replay in some secret layer, often delaying the action by 10 minutes or more in a game that already has pace problems. And once again, the viewer at home can make the decision in one or two minutes, if not one or two seconds, by seeing the replay at home.

Every time I see an NFL referee slowly walk over and stick his head under the hood, I ask why the hell there isn't an NFL control room cutting this process exponentially shorter. Every time I see a manager go out and ask for that "home run" be reviewed and the umps vanish from site, I wonder why one of Bud Selig's cronies isn't watching the game from MLB headquarters and giving the thumbs up or thumbs down in the two seconds it takes to determine if the ball was a home run … or fair or foul. Every time the NBA officials huddle around a small monitor and take forever to see if the shot beat the buzzer, I wonder why some guy in Newark isn't viewing it on the big-screen HDTV and making the determination in a fraction of the time.

The NHL gets this one right, while the other three major sports in North America get it painfully wrong. If they all adopted the NHL replay review system, the games would be shorter, the stoppages would be shorter and the viewing experience and the games themselves would be enhanced for all parties involved. There'd be no momentum coming to a screeching halt, no long delays boring the fans in attendance, no interruption to the flow of action.

The only argument I've heard against this move is the money argument — that it would cost these leagues money to employee replay review officials at their headquarters. But to me, that is beyond a weak argument. For starters, the NHL can afford it, and the NHL is the least popular of the big four. If the NHL can staff a control room, so can the NFL, NBA and MLB. Secondly, this is an investment in the respective sports. It turns an inefficient process into a remarkably efficient one. It allows the game to move on at the same pace the fans are ready for it to move on. If the fans can watch a replay and determine the proper call in a matter of seconds or minutes, the leagues themselves should too. They have the technology, they have the money and they have the blueprint already mapped out for them. This wouldn't be some sunk cost. It's a logical enhancement to the game, one that can be easily and readily implemented, like, today.

It's one of those things that makes so much sense it hurts to think why it's not the case. The umpires, officials and referees shouldn't be looking under hoods or huddling around monitors, wasting time and slowing up games. There is a better way, a smarter way, a more efficient way, and it's already taking place in the NHL.

Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League rightfully take a lot of shit for the things they get wrong, but this is the one thing they absolutely get right.

So as we watch yet another NFL referee slow up the game with an unnecessarily long gander under the hood, as we watch umpires disappear from the field for 15 minutes to decide on a pennant-changing call, as we gear up for the start of the NBA season in a few months and watch officials huddle around a tiny box, I'll continue to wonder in astonishment, why don't all sports use the NHL's "control room" replay review system?

3 Replies to “Why Don't All Sports Use The NHL's 'Control Room' Replay Review System?”

  1. Could not agree more, not a hole in this argument. Baseball needs to get this right- they can't afford to expand replay when every instance involves 3/4 of the umps running off the field for 10 minutes at a time.

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