April 07, 2020
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Instant replay for high school basketball should be used only in the smallest of doses

Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Members of the Dexter boys basketball team hoist the Class C North championship plaque Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor after beating Central Aroostook 50-48, on a controversial three-point shot at the buzzer.

The Northern Maine basketball tournament ended in dramatic fashion Saturday night, with Parker Ponte’s 3-point shot as — or after — time expired giving Dexter a 50-48 victory over Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in the Class C boys final.

I’ve just looked at the replay at game speed several times trying to focus on the shooter and the orange lights behind the backboard that signify that time has expired and still can’t tell whether the shot was released in time or not.

When I saw Ponte’s shot in person I thought it was good, as did the majority of folks sitting along my section of press row at the Cross Insurance Center at the time.

But a slow-motion version of the replay and several still photos make it appear that the shot likely was not out of Ponte’s shooting hand before the backboard lights came on, making the attempt too late.

The quick-strike response from those upset with a split-second human decision by veteran game officials is to follow the path of professional and college sports and demand instant replay.

I’m not so sure that in this instance it would have made a difference.

The live streaming production of Maine’s high school tournament contests, while a great service to Maine high school basketball fans, is not like TNT broadcasting the NBA or CBS televising the NCAA’s March Madness with dozens of cameras placed around the arena to provide virtually every angle of a given play.

WHOU.live, which now live-streams the majority of Maine’s tournament games for the Maine Principals’ Association, typically uses two cameras per game at the Bangor, Augusta and Portland venues, with one camera featuring replay capability.

When I initially saw the slow-motion replay of the Ponte shot in the immediate aftermath of the game, it wouldn’t have prompted the former official in me to change the original call. The available view was from behind Ponte and I couldn’t tell if the ball was still in his hand or one inch or more in front of his hand when the backboard lighting came on.

So is there a scenario where it’s at least worth taking a look at the available replay before making a final decision?

The National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees interscholastic athletics around the country including in Maine, provides for member states to use a replay monitor for basketball during state championship series contests, but only with 0:00 showing on the game clock at the end of regulation play or overtime to determine whether a shot is a 2-pointer or 3-pointer or whether the shot was released before time expired.

A 2019 NFHS survey answered by 43 member state associations found that 26 states — including Maine — have not adopted the use of a replay monitor for basketball, according to Bruce Howard, NFHS director of publications and communications.

Seventeen states have adopted the replay monitor, with only three states using replay beyond the finals and semifinals of their state tournaments, he added.

Most states that have adopted replay use it only for state championship games, Howard said.

It’s hard to argue against that singular scenario for instant replay, with supporters suggesting that if the technology is available, why not use it?

But I, like the NFHS in establishing its narrow policy, am concerned about what’s next. How much of our sports should we turn over to technology at the expense of the human element, particularly at the high school level where the game at its heart is still part of the educational process despite what many fans may think?

The truth is that the Dexter-Central Aroostook game, like every tournament game before it, had plenty of turnovers, fouls and other imperfections from all parties involved before its final split-second ending. A different outcome from any one of those mistakes could have changed the game’s conclusion.

Parker Ponte made a shot that will be remembered around both Dexter and Mars Hill for generations is indisputable.

It also spurs a hopefully reasoned discussion about what role — if any — instant replay should have in Maine’s interscholastic sports future, which is probably a good thing, too.

 


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