For the second year in a row, the hot topic from the Women’s College World Series was that of video analysis or instant replay of game footage. “Baseball has it, so why don’t we?” Was a common quote used among coaches, players, and spectators at the event. ESPN covered almost all of the Regional, Super Regional and College World Series games, the technology is there, so what’s the hold-up?
The most significant controversy that sparked the discussion was a play at the plate during the Florida vs. UCLA game. The UCLA runner tagged up from third base on a pop fly in foul territory behind third. The result was a bang-bang play at the plate, wherein real time, it looked as though the runner may have been safe. After watching four different video camera angles taken on the field, one graphic looked as though the tag got the runner just before her foot touched home. The umpire called the runner safe on the play, giving UCLA the momentum they would use to go on and win the game eventually.
Did this play at the plate cost Florida the game? It depends who you ask. It was a huge momentum shifter that gave UCLA a run and extra at-bats in the game where a single run decided the final score. If the runner had been called out, does UCLA win?
There were several other controversial calls made throughout the week. Not as many as last year it seemed, wherein 2017 several games were decided on judgment calls and not actual proof. The game of softball is fast moving, and more often than not, bang-bang plays will take place, forcing the game officials to make a decision based on judgment.
One major negative that stands out regarding adding instant replay to the college softball post-season would be the delay in the game. Softball draws viewers because of the fast pace and high intensity that it brings. It’s fun to watch and easy to get drawn in as a spectator. Instant replay would slow the game down and draw out innings by having the officials take a timeout to review camera footage on the play.
If softball were to move forward with instant replay, to not be taken advantage of, a limit would need to be set for each team, and a rule guide of what can be reviewed would need to be followed. If there aren’t rules, anything could be under review, and that would slow the speed of the game down. Plays at the plate or any of the other bases and catches made should qualify for instant video review. A check swing or an illegal pitch should not.
Video review footage from the World Series also showed how inconsistent umpires regulated the new slapping rule. Sometimes the call would be made that the slapper made contact with the ball out of the box, and sometimes it would not. Would this fall under instant replay? If a slapper got a base hit but was apparently out of the box, could the opposing coach challenge the ruling and use instant replay as evidence? If this is reviewable, should illegal pitches be reviewable? We can not say one is while the other is not. Can we?
Implementing instant review in college softball could be very beneficial if it’s done the right way and it isn’t taken advantage of. There would have to be a specific amount of challenges allowed by each team throughout the game. As well as guidelines of what can be reviewed. A pitch that was a boarder-line ball or strike would not qualify.
Instant replay would improve the accuracy of the game-deciding calls and provide fairness to both teams. With video technology review, it would take the heat off of the umpire who is bound to upset someone when a call must be made. Coaches and players may be disappointed that the call didn’t go their way, but blaming or accusing the umpire of being wrong would completely go away. Video and camera angles don’t lie.
After being present at the Women’s College World Series the past two years and hearing the discussions, instant replay in softball may be closer than we realize. If we have the resources and the ability to make it happen, especially in post-season, shouldn’t we take full advantage of it? With any new technology advancement in sports comes pros and cons to be weighed. Do the pros of having this tool outweigh the cons? That’s the question coaches, players, umpires, spectators, and the softball rule makers will need to evaluate and answer.