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No easy fix to NFL’s instant replay

Steelers fans saw something during last week’s Monday Night Football broadcast as their team played the Bengals that they thought never see — a seemingly sure-fire replay challenge victory for coach Mike Tomlin.

It’s been two-plus years since Tomlin has tossed a red challenge flag and had the result go his way, so fans know the routine well. The coach considers, ponders, maybe even wavers and eventually offers a challenge.

Then, after a review he loses and his team loses a timeout.

Still, against the Bengals on a hard-to-see and hard-to-fathom offensive pass interference call against the Steelers, Tomlin challenged. There was some contact, some seemingly typical back and forth between the receiver and the defender. And, by most standards fans have seen through the years, it was minor contact.

Tomlin seemed confident with his move, as he should have. But … he lost again.

The NFL’s replay review changes made challenges of pass interference calls and non-calls possible for the first time this season. Still, figuring out what constitutes interference and what does not remains elusive — as Tomlin and Steelers fans discovered again.

That’s the problem with replay review. It’s not often enough helpful or obvious. It’s often counterintuitive, and it takes an inordinate amount of time to make even an easy a decision in most instances.

There’s no easy fix, either. It’s a generally flawed process that neither the broadcasters, which bring the money, nor the league, which has the compelling product, seems intent on fixing. Proactive solutions are rare, and reactive adjustments happen regularly.

Unfortunately that does not serve the game, viewers or Tomlin’s chances of getting a call overturned in his favor anytime soon.

Busy booth

Replay review officials would seem to be helpful — that’s why every network has hired one (or in the case of Fox Sports, two) — but they just are not.

They too often forget they’re employed to serve viewers and simplify things. Instead, they focus on nuances, or the five or six things that must be considered on a certain replay and make things more confusing.

Some seem to buy time and not want to offer an opinion, waiting until a ruling has happened to only then explain why. Heck, a good, prepared color commentator should be able to do that.

Having another person or voice in the broadcast booth just does not serve viewers. It seems like a waste of money and time.

Mixed media

Last week’s brief hubbub related to Penn State football showed the disconnect, of sorts, between media members on site at an event and fans watching on TV.

While Penn State fans noticed the necklace tradition practiced by the team’s running backs, most media members covering the game did not know until afterward. In some cases, a call from home (for Penn State color commentator Jack Ham) or a social media mentions (for several writers) brought initial awareness to the story.

Then, even though it was talked about by fans, the situation and timing of the game prevented any questions about the topic until four days after the game.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that difference in how media and people they serve happens every week. It just seems more noticeable some weeks than others.

Tuner tidbits

n Today’s Steelers game, which airs on CBS (WTAJ-TV, Channel 10), features Ian Eagle on play-by-play, Dan Fouts as color analyst and reporter Evan Washburn. It’s a good team for an early season game that means something to both teams.

n A recent study of cable subscribers found ESPN ranked first in perceived value by adults and network TV viewers. In Beta Research Corp.’s annual survey, ESPN also ranked first (or tied for first) on percent of adults and viewers rating the network as a 5 on a 5-point “must have” network scale. According to that, 5 means “it’s a must have channel on your channel line-up” and 1 means “it’s a channel not at all needed.”

Sampsell comments on the broadcast media for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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