Video rule killed the relay stars

I’m not a big fan of video review in sports.

There was a time I felt differently – in fact, I thought the NFL should have been sued over the poor quality of its officiating back in the 1990s, when the regular guys made that crew at last fall’s Green Bay-Seattle game look like seasoned pros.

I’ve seen, though, how video review of even limited scenarios in sports not only takes some of the human element out of the game, but makes games drag on. And the number of calls overturned is minimal – about one out of three, various sources report, in the NFL; it’s only about 10 percent in the NHL. Baseball umpires have made a few notable blunders this season, but overall get it right more than the others – some statistical analyses show an error rate of only .5 percent.

And, only a small number of calls are subject to challenge and review, so those fractions are, well, a fraction of the calls officials make.

In scholastic sports, there are always going to be missed calls, questionable calls – even bad calls. But even in that environment, the number of officiating calls that change the outcome of games is small. I’ve been doing this for nigh on a quarter century, and I’ve seen one game that was obviously decided on a blown call, and maybe two others that were questionable.

Out of hundreds and hundreds of games in a dozen sports.

Which brings us to the PIAA track and field championships, and a blown call that not only denied a clear favorite a shot at state gold, but one that was part of a pattern of questionable officiating that left the sport with a major black eye Friday.

Thanks to the folks at – part of the online network – for bringing this one to light.

Track and field does use video, a rarity in high school sports – but only at the finish line. Video determines the winner of a close race in a sport where hundredths of seconds count.

But it can’t be used to review the decision of an official on the track – and that’s where the problem occurred Friday. Specifically, the judging for the 4×100-meter relay became suspect when 14 different teams were disqualified, many of them, it appears, by the same judge, who ruled that a number of those teams exchanged the baton outside the allowable zone.

Among those hit by the penalty was a quartet of runners from Class AAA Pennridge High School in Perkasie. The Rams were the second seed in their event, one of the top teams in the state in the race.

Mistakes can happen. Teams can be disqualified. Even good teams.

But the evidence in this case is against the PIAA, in the form of video posted on the PennTrack website ( showing the Pennridge exchange taking place in the zone.

“Meet referee and state rules interpreter Jack Hedlund met with Smith and his quartet about an hour after the event concluded, explaining the rules limiting video reviews and reinforcing the initial decision by the judge assigned to lanes 1-4 and the outgoing runners. The official was certain that the Rams’ first baton pass occurred outside the 20-meter zone, and the disqualification would stand,” PennTrack reported.

“‘That precludes having any videos of the exchange zones or at the takeoff board of the long jump,’ Hedlund explained of the national rule allowing only video review at the finish line of track events. ‘There can be people all around taking videos, but the fact of the matter is we can’t use them because of the rules we all have to use. That’s what’s in the rule book.'”

And so, because the people who run the meet turned a blind eye to proof they were wrong – something that should have stood out like starter’s orange, or a yellow foul flag waving in the air, based solely on the unlikelihood that 14 teams would disqualify themselves in a meet at this level, even on a cold and windy day – untold numbers of high school students looking to end their careers on the state medal stand were sent home.

We may never know how many of them did or did not foul. But, as PennTrack reports, we know at least one was not guilty, but was disqualified just the same.

And that’s one too many.


Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at