Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Replays And Rivals

The easiest thing in the world to say to a Dallas Cowboy fan right now is that there's no complaining about the officiating this week after what happened last week.

And there is some truth to that. After all, a reversed pass interference call went a long way to giving the Cowboys a playoff win over Detroit last week. An overturned call on a Dez Bryant catch/no-catch near the goal line late the in the fourth quarter went a long way to knocking Dallas out against Green Bay this week.

Karma, right? What goes around comes around, right?

Well, there's way more to it than that. It really goes to the heart of what replay is supposed to be.

The use of instant replay grew out of the furor surrounding a bad call in the 1979 AFC championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers, when Houston's Mike Renfro caught a pass in the end zone with both feet inbounds in the fourth quarter, only to have it ruled incomplete. When the TV replays showed Renfro was really in, the first call to use replay in games emerged.

And that was the point. To correct horrible mistakes like that.

Instant replay first was used in the 1986 season. Since then, it has evolved from the idea of correcting obviously wrong calls to what it is now, which is an agonizing look for the slightest difference between fumble or no fumble or catch or no catch or first down or no first down.

Case in point was the call against Bryant and the Cowboys. If there was no replay and the call was a catch, there would have been no outcry about the play. It would have just been first-and-goal, like Dallas touchdown, and ball to Green Bay to try to win it at the end.

That's what it should have been. Instead, the call was reversed.

Remember, replay isn't trying to make the call. It's trying to decide if the call that was made was correct. And it's supposed to take indisputable evidence to overturn it.

To TigerBlog, that means that the official should get to look at it once from every available angle, and if it's not obvious after that one look - which should take about 10 seconds - then the call stands.

And TB doesn't understand how there was evidence to overturn the Bryant catch. Unless TigerBlog is misunderstanding the rule, he hasn't seen a replay that shows that the ball definitely hit the ground. If it never touched the ground, isn't it a catch? And if there is no replay that clearly shows that it hit the ground, shouldn't the play have stood?

As for the TV presentation of the game, it was the first postseason meeting between the teams in Green Bay since the famous Ice Bowl. At one point, it was called "Ice Bowl II," which TB thought was a bit much.

The Ice Bowl was played on New Year's Eve 1967. A few weeks later, Columbia defeated Princeton 92-74 in the Ivy League men's baskeball playoff game at St. John's to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Going back before that, it was Yale in 1962 who went to the NCAA tournament. And then there was Brown in 1986 and Cornell in 1988.

Other than that, every one of those years from when Yale went in 1963 until Cornell went in 2008, the Ivy League was represented by either Princeton or Penn in the NCAA tournament. That's every year except for three between 1963 and 2008.

That's nearly half a century, by the way.

It's ridiculous to think about just how much Princeton and Penn dominated Ivy League men's basketball and for how long.

As a result of this dominance, every game between the schools was huge. Each game was an event.

In the entire history of Ivy League athletics, there is only one rivalry in any sport that comes close, and that's Harvard-Yale football. There have been other great ones (Princeton-Cornell men's lacrosse is one) that have had their moments, but those two have really stood out.

But Harvard and Yale in football haven't come close to dominating the league championships the way Princeton and Penn did in men's basketball.

The teams met again this past Saturday, when Princeton came from 15 points back in the second half to beat Penn 78-74. The win came in the Ivy League opener for both.

Princeton is now off until Jan. 25, when it plays Rowan in its Division III game. Then it's a home weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth after that. The game against Harvard will help shape the league race and give a glimpse into what Princeton's role in it will be.

TigerBlog is looking forward to that game. The current Tigers are certainly scrappy, and they have some really likeable players to watch, including a bunch who are in their first or second years. It should be an interesting game, when the Crimson come to Jadwin.

But that game is still almost three weeks away.

For today, TigerBlog can't help but wonder if the Princeton-Penn rivalry will ever again be what it once was. TB has had to explain to some of the newer people in the department what Princeton-Penn used to be, and while he does, it takes him back to some of the greatest days of the rivalry, which TB has experienced as a Penn student, Princeton employee and neutral sportswriter (who was rooting for Princeton on the inside).

It's unrealistic to expect two teams to dominate a league the way Princeton and Penn did over such an extended period. Maybe it'll again be what it was.

TigerBlog can hope at least.


Anonymous said...

Like many Princeton (and Penn) alumni, I have a graduate degree from Harvard (or Yale) and have attended many P/P basketball games and H/Y football games. There is no comparison between the two.

The P/P basketball games were the best in what a sports rivalry should be, titanic struggles between ancient foes where the stakes were winner-take-all; the champion goes onto the NCAA tournament while the loser gets nothing, no salve such as a tourney at-large bid.

By contrast, the H/Y football games were essentially fun, grand social events which happened to have a football game occurring on-site. On some occasions (including this past year), a championship was at stake, creating some bona fide drama. But real stakes or not, the vast majority of the audience was attending their only game of the year and many fans barely follow football in general or the action on the field that day. A good time, but hardly a sports rivalry when so many people in the stands really don't appreciate the sport itself and are focused on drinking with friends.

On a different topic, there is an article on NJ.com which reports that, for the 150th anniversary of college football in 2019, Rutgers is interested in playing a game against Princeton but we are nonchalant at best and worried at worst. TB, this is the wrong attitude for us to take and, as our number one cheerleader, you should be leading the charge for this game to take place.

Remember when you wrote earlier this year that you felt a twinge of envy when ESPN's College GameDay visited Harvard for the H/Y football game? A Princeton-Rutgers game to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the sport itself would be a bigger deal by an order of magnitude.

In the NJ.com article, Coach Surace says he worried about playing Rutgers for our first game when the Scarlet Knights will already have several contests under their belt that season. The solution to this problem is simple and elegantly solvable: Schedule the Princeton-Rutgers game the first Saturday afternoon of the entire season, Labor Day weekend. It could serve as the kick-off event to a season of 150th anniversary celebrations.

Princeton would have to begin football camp in early August, several weeks earlier than usual. One benefit of this timeframe is that, if we get dinged up by injuries against Rutgers, we would have three or four weeks to recuperate before our normal regular season.

Both Princeton and Rutgers would be playing the sesquicentennial game as the first one of the season so neither team would have an advantage in that regard. Obviously, Rutgers has a BCS team in a Power 5 conference should be heavily favored. But our 2013 team could have given the Scarlets Knights a very respectable game.

There are a million reasons why this game shouldn't happen. If people want to focus on killing the idea, it will be easy. But if Princeton people want this game to happen, it will happen. The decision is entirely ours to make; Rutgers wants this very, very badly.

There are more reasons why we should want to see this game take place than not. One obvious upside is that scheduling this game could have beneficial effects on our recruiting for the next five years.

TB, you are the perfect guy to serve as champion for this idea. Don't get tripped out by the minor complications of the logistics involved. As my five-year-old daughter admonished my wife yesterday, "Mom, try to focus on the positives."

Anonymous said...

As of now, Rutgers has an open date on the first Saturday of the 2019 season, August 31. Schedule the 150th anniversary game at high noon. Invite ESPN College GameDay and the usual suspects of high-ranking politicians and dignitaries. Anybody who is running for office in 2020 will jump at the feel-good photo op.

Ask all the other colleges in the country with noon games to schedule their kickoff no earlier than, say, 12:05 or 12:10. Simulcast the first five or ten minutes of celebration ceremonies to every stadium and broadcast nationwide. For one brief moment, every college football fan in America will be watching Princeton and Rutgers commemorate what they started 150 years earlier.

This could be a fun, unique milestone in the history of Princeton and American football. Princeton has five years to plan and execute an event worthy of its role in making football football.