Monday, May 16, 2011
This paper aims to resolve a question of superficial triviality: when sports use instant replay technology to review on-field calls, what standard of review should they employ? The conventional view is that on-field calls should be entrenched against reversal such that, if the reviewing official has any doubt about the correctness of the initial call, he should be instructed to let it stand - even if he thinks it very probably wrong. Indeed, in the wake of officiating debacles at last summer’s FIFA World Cup, many observers proposed not only that soccer introduce instant replay, but also that its governing bodies adopt the NFL rule directing that on-field calls be overturned only when the referee sees "indisputable visual evidence" (IVE) that that call was mistaken. In a small nutshell, this essay argues that conventional wisdom in favor of IVE likely rests upon mistaken premises, and offers several concrete proposals for reform.
A lengthy investigation into the optimal standard of review for instant replay in sports might seem frivolous. But it serves a deeper ambition. We are in the early years of sports’ colonization by econometricians, as legal theorists remain watching from the sidelines. That is unfortunate. Formal organized sports are, in effect, legal systems, and legal theorists might find much both to teach and to learn by paying closer attention to competitive athletics. In short, legal theorists would benefit from a sustained engagement with what I have termed, in previous work, "the jurisprudence of sport" As a case study in this nascent field, this essay reveals that the problem of appellate review in sports is surprisingly rich and complex. But it shows more than that. The jurisprudence of sport maintains that sporting practices and norms can teach lessons for ordinary legal systems as surely as the other way around. Illustrating that claim, this essay draws from football replay practices an argument to reform the criminal trial system to accommodate two verdicts of acquittal, not one.