Replay not good call for Maine

Posted May 21, 2009, at 10:50 p.m.

Consider some of the great moments in Maine high school basketball: Mike Thurston’s “shot heard round the state” that gave Caribou its 1969 state title, or Joe Campbell’s flip-in at the buzzer to give Bangor a stunning 57-56 victory over Deering of Portland in the 2001 Class A championship game.

Would either of those outcomes been different had instant replay been available?

One supposes not, but the possibility exists that buzzer-beating moments of future thrillers may be subject to further review.

That’s because of a recent rule change by the National Federation of State High School Associations that will allow states the option of using of instant replay for last-second shots in high school basketball championship games beginning next season.

The rule change, prompted by controversial finishes at 2008 championship games in South Carolina, Ohio and Michigan, would involve the review of shot attempts at the end of the fourth quarter or overtime, and only when the last-second shot would affect the outcome of the game.

The change would let game officials determine whether the ball had left the shooter’s hand before time expired or whether the shot was for two or three points.

The rule is not mandatory, and it’s unlikely Maine will adopt instant replay, at least in the very near future.

Maine Principals’ Association executive director Dick Durost said this week he had not yet seen the details of the rule change, nor had the MPA’s basketball committee.

There also are some logistical challenges during tournament time, with games not televised until the regional semifinals at Bangor and Augusta and even more limited coverage for games played in Portland. Camera coverage at the sites varies, and whether there would be sufficient coverage to allow for clear-cut decisions in situations covered in the national rule change remains to be seen.

To be sure, instant replay continues to make inroads into the professional and major college sports world.

It’s most ingrained in professional football, but perhaps best used in professional tennis, which employs a GPS system to review line calls. Like in football, each side has a certain number of challenges, and in tennis the result of the instant replay is shown on the video screen at the site within seconds after the challenge is made and the players resume the match.

Elsewhere instant replay sometimes interferes with the rhythm of the game, not to mention replacing a subjective ruling based on an official’s live interpretation of the action with a subjective ruling based on a review of only the angles available on videotape.

And that’s why I’m not eager to bring instant replay to Maine high school basketball.

Human error is part of any youth competition, whether that error stems from a player, coach or official. Adding replay won’t necessarily ensure the final call in a given situation is the correct call.

Perhaps another new rule adopted nationally will bridge the gap. That would allow for the use of a red light behind each backboard to signal the end of a quarter or overtime, as is the case now at all NBA and many college arenas.

The light is synchronized with the game clock, which would give high school officials another weapon to ensure accuracy in end-of-game situations without taking the ultimate decision out of their hands.

All of the state’s basketball tournament venues should be encouraged to purchase one of these systems, so at least everyone can see the light.

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