Dealing With It: “[. . .] the ruling on the field is correct.”

Had it not been for that lunatic Australian and his parachuteStepfan Taylor’s twisting, heroic and ultimately futile effort against Notre Dame on Saturday, the video of The Stand would have been the most viewed YouTube clip on the internets this weekend. Admit it.  You watched it, over and over. And, if you’re like me, you had at least one co-worker pop his ND-hating head into your office and go, “that was a touchdown, ya know” and keep walking.

Author’s note: I started writing this piece on Monday, to post it Tuesday morning. I was done in, however, by some sort of server crash. This has allowed more time for rumination and, perhaps, the definitive word from the NCAA’s head referee Tuesday afternoon. Rogers Redding, after reviewing all the evidence, told the AP that he would “have to let the call stand.” In reading his interview, I was taken by how dismissive he was of the ball as an issue (spoiler alert: the ball and the endzone are red herrings). The important thing was forward progress. Regardless, the point of this piece, and it’s something not emphasized in the interview, is why the decision to let the call stand was the right one.

So let’s look at the video, then the rules and see why we got where we are today and why the refs got the call perfectly right. Trust me. The Stand starts at about 1:42, FYI.

Rule 12 states that “[t]he instant reply process operates under the fundamental assumption that the ruling on the field is correct.” Rule 12 continues that “[t]he replay official may reverse a ruling if and only if the video evidence convinces him beyond all doubt that the ruling was incorrect. Without such indisputable video evidence, the replay official must allow the ruling to stand.” Finally, Rule 12’s Section 7 states: “[t]o reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence through one or more video replays provided to the monitor.”

I think it is beyond the scope of an article like this to trace the evolution of the legal meaning of the phrases “beyond all doubt,” “if and only if” and “indisputable.” First, I don’t want to bore you to tears. Second, we are not in criminal law-land. We’re in the weird world of the NCAA. So let’s go to that great arbiter of the known: the dictionary.

“All,” depending on the dictionary, generally means “wholly.” Note to SEC fan: one does not put “wholly” above the door to steal kisses. That’s something altogether different. Now, to indulge the criminal attorneys out there (“hey, Bayou! aren’t all lawyers criminals?” wakka wakka), the oft-used example explaining the  burden “beyond a reasonable doubt” is that the prosecutor doesn’t have to exclude the unreasonable doubts, just the reasonable ones. So, for the NCAA to use require a “beyond all doubt” -standard, they’re including the unreasonable doubts. For doubt is only ever reasonable or unreasonable.

Do you see what I did there? I just ended the “controversy.” You see, when the replay official looked at the video, he didn’t look at to make sure it was the right call. Instead, he looked at a call presumed to be correct and only then to see if there were no way it was the right call. That, Loyal readers, is a pretty high standard.

Think of it this way, and now my Arts and Letters background is going to come screaming out of the closet like Liberace stepping out of a bedazzled limo on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton: imagine you walk into the Louvre and you pause in front of the painting you hoi polloi know as The Mona Lisa. “You know,” says the smarmy docent, “she eez smiling because she is not wearing any pants.'” Loopy as it is, if you give that to the replay official, that interpretation, or call, is not getting reversed. To reverse the call, or interpretation, would require the replay official to see without any doubt or question that she is not, in fact, wearing any pants. Here. Try it for yourself.

So watch the replay again with the proper standard in mind. Start with the “fundamental assumption” that the ruling on the field is correct. To reverse, one or more indisputable videos must remove all doubt, however slight, as to the ruling’s error. Only then can you reverse.

You begin with the “fundamental assumption” of the call’s correctness. A “fundamental assumption,” perhaps not something a priori, but an assumption that is fundamental in that it is the bedrock of the exercise. An assumption that can only be overcome by indisputable video evidence. What is “indisputable”? “Something that cannot be questioned.” Can this? This? What about this? Let’s let an expert take us through that very exercise:

As Winnie the Pooh admonished, at the start of the hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are hunting. This is doubly true for replay review, and this is where most of us go off the rails. We think they’re reviewing the call for error. They aren’t. They’re reviewing the call for the slightest correctness. If there’s a doubt, however small, as to the call’s complete wrongness, the ruling on the field must be upheld.

It is fitting that a game that began in the metaphoric glare of the national media ended under the glare of blazing lights on gold helmets amid the distorting effect of water. The end was cinematic in every detail: the injured Nix returned, the indefatigable Te’o, the Ultimate Warrior, prowling his line, bracing his troops for one last stand, a modern day Joshua Chamberlain, and the water. The rain waving across the shining lights, surrounding Manti, a simulacrum of ocean and rock. This was the stuff of instant legend. Thank God they got it right! And how drunk was Vince Vaughn?

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