How Does Instant Replay Change the Game?

Rule changes in organized sports are rare. The process of making rule changes in a major sports league such as the NBA, NFL, or MLB is lengthy and difficult. Because of this, and because we as a nation like as little change as possible, when major rule changes do occur in organized sports, it’s a big deal. Reaction to changes in rules can be drastically in favor or drastically against, and since sports are a core part of the lives of many Americans, people generally aren’t shy about voicing their opinions.

Citi Field, home of the New York Mets

Citi Field, home of the New York Mets

As we read in class, recently the NFL implemented three rule changes: banning ball-carriers from lowering their helmets into oncoming defenders, no kick-off’s in the Pro Bowl, and the elimination of tackling during preseason camps. Reaction to these changes has been mixed, and reminded me of the mixed reaction by the public to the new expansion of instant replay in Major League Baseball. Earlier this year, all 30 clubs in the MLB unanimously approved the expansion of instant replay. While instant replay is a tool utilized in many different sports, it had been very limited in Major League Baseball before this. The response to the expansion has been varied. Young fans generally seem to be more in favor of it, while older fans tend to dislike it as some see it as corrupting the game. One Mets fan was quoted saying “I don’t really care if they get the call right”. My dad has been a Mets fan since he was young, and when I asked him if he liked the implementation of instant replay, he said he thought it was useful and the direction the game needs to be taken, but he still doesn’t like it. He understands that it’s a change that had to be made, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s taking the game of baseball away from what it once was. It’s bringing it into a new era, and that’s hard for many, including my dad, to digest.

An example of instant replay being utilized in Major League Baseball:


This bringing of baseball into a new era is something that makes me question whether or not the implementation of instant replay in MLB is a “Burkian” change or not. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke lists many criteria for what he believes to be good change. Characteristics that make a change “Burkian” include that the change is: well thought out, deliberate, based in tradition and culture, and entrenched in what came before. While the implementation of instant replay in Major League Baseball has been a well thought out change that’s taken place over the last 4 or 5 years, it’s not at all based in tradition and what came before. Instant replay is only possible because of technological advancements made in recent times. It’s a change that wouldn’t have been possible 50 or so years ago, before the technology had been developed. This change fulfills some of Burke’s criteria, but is completely opposite of some of his other criteria. Because of this, it’s really difficult for me to determine whether or not this change would be considered “Burkian” or not.


La Liga (Primera División) is the top professional association football division of the Spanish football league system

While I personally am unsure of whether or not the use of instant replay would be considered “Burkian”, it’s interesting to think about how exactly change changes sport. I’m talking beneath the surface, beneath just the fact that instant replay is being used, but how exactly that alters the experience of the spectator. I’m a massive soccer fan, and the though of instant replay ever being implemented in the Premier League or La Liga seems wrong to me. So much of the viewing experience of soccer revolves around complaining about bad calls. Complaining to your friend about how “that shouldn’t have been a yellow card” or “he wasn’t offsides”. While instant replay would eradicate these problems, it would also eradicate what so much of what the viewing experience has become. Complaining about bad calls creates a feeling of community and togetherness among fans, and the question I raise is whether the pros of implementing instant replay in a sport like soccer would outweigh the cons. Would it change the game too much? What exactly does this mean? What is too much? Thinking about instant replay in the context of soccer makes me understand my dad’s perspective on instant replay in Major League Baseball more. It’s something that obviously would eliminate some of the problems associated with the sport (namely bad calls), but is that necessarily a good thing?



  1. johnoett · November 16, 2014

    You raise an interesting point about instant replay hurting the viewing experience for fans. I would like to add that it can do the same in baseball as in soccer. On certain occasions this year, instant replay decisions in baseball were painstakingly long and lost my interest as a spectator. That being said, I do think instant replay is a necessary addition in baseball, and truthfully I think all sports should adopt it. While it can sometimes distract from the viewership experience, it creates a more pure form of the sport being played. Technology allows referees to make decisions based on what actually happened, not their perception of what happened, and that positive outweighs the negatives. A few years ago, Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, was denied a perfect game because an umpire made an incorrect call in the 9th inning of his start. Human error prevented him from securing a place in baseball immortality, and to me that is despicable. Additionally, I think that instant replay can benefit umpires and referees by relieving them of some of the pressure they are under. The umpire that botched the Galarraga call was vilified and criticized for months, even after he profusely apologized on numerous occasions. Umpiring is an incredibly hard and unforgiving job, and replay gives them umpires leeway to make mistakes every once in a while.


  2. pburt117 · November 16, 2014

    This post was interesting. It was cool to realize how instant replays have a place in some sports, but feel odd in others. In the days of instant replay and technology, sports have the possibility to be much more automated. However, some feel this change would alter the games in a negative way. Others may argue that it could counteract human error that referees are bound to have. To me, it will almost eliminate some fun that comes in arguing over whether the call was good or not. Technology has a lot of possible impacts in sports.


  3. maxmcquaid · December 8, 2014

    I liked this post. You bring up good points about how instant replay can help and hurt the game. While instant replay helps referees make the right calls and make the game more fair, they change the game’s tradition. I think that in addition to your argument, instant replays change the flow of the game. The game could be very exciting, and when there is a difficult call to make, it can be very difficult for a fan to wait 15 minutes for the referees to watch the play over and over again. Also, if a team were gaining momentum, a break in play for instant replays can hurt the team. I would almost rather them just make the call on the spot, even if it is the wrong call, and continue than delay the game.


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