The Premier League has a VAR crisis. The NFL has a solution
The Premier League has a VAR crisis. The NFL has a solution
SPORT  |  Sun - October 18, 2020 8:44 am  |  Article Hits:67  |  A+ | a-
VAR, in theory, sounded great. It really did. But a few years after soccer’s first widespread video review system debuted, it has become clear that VAR is not great. It’s harming the sport. Injecting itself unnecessarily to suck away joy. Changing outcomes that literally nobody felt needed to change. On Saturday, it turned a brilliant Merseyside Derby into a postgame moan-fest. Jordan Henderson won the match for Liverpool. Then he didn’t, because apparently Sadio Mane’s shoulder was one inch too far forward in the buildup to the goal. (Screenshot: NBC Sports) (Screenshot: NBC Sports) The Video Assistant Referee system has overstepped its bounds. It was put in place to correct “clear and obvious errors,” which it does. It has also reversed marginal, previously undetectable errors-that-aren’t-really-errors, like the phantom offside that disallowed Wolves’ equalizer against Liverpool last year ... Wolves' equalizer against Liverpool was disallowed by VAR for this "offside" in the buildup. (Screenshot: NBC Sports) Wolves' equalizer against Liverpool was disallowed by VAR for this "offside" in the buildup. (Screenshot: NBC Sports) ... and the eerily similar call that disallowed Henderson’s winner against this year. VAR, like so many other great ideas, came bearing unintended consequences. The issue isn’t just the offsides and handballs that are anything but “clear and obvious.” It’s the hesitation that now accompanies every goal because of them. It’s the unspoken fear that ecstatic celebrations will, two minutes later, seem embarrassing; that the most instantaneous and genuine of emotions can be undone. Something has to change. The difficult part is figuring out what, and how. Because the simple solutions also bear unintended consequences. VAR, therefore, needs an overhaul. Why the offside problem can’t be fixed The first issue with Saturday’s Liverpool-Everton decision is that it’s unclear whether Mane was actually offside. Because, for all the technology that enables VAR, it still requires a human to make a very subjective and difficult decision: Where, underneath Mane’s sleeve, does his arm – which is irrelevant for offside purposes – end and his shoulder begin? The video assistant isn’t some expert on Mane’s anatomy. He doesn’t have X-ray images at his disposal. Offside is supposedly factually, which is why decisions don’t have to be “clearly and obviously” wrong to be overturned. But there’s significant room for human error here. Enough that an incorrectly-drawn line could ruin a perfectly good goal. One solution would be to account for that margin of error. Tweak the rule so that there must be, say, three inches between the attacking line and defensive line to overturn a call. The problem with any fix specifically targeting offside decisions, however, is that line-drawing is necessary no matter the law. Another common proposal is that offside should require “daylight” between infringing attacker and last defender. But who decides what constitutes “daylight”? No matter where you draw the line, there are imperfections and marginal decisions that must be made. There would be fury on the margins of a three-inch buffer, just like there is fury with no buffer. Neither the offside law nor its application is the problem. Nor is scrapping VAR altogether the answer, because we do want “clear and obvious” errors corrected.
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