Gene Steratore, CBS’s resident football and basketball referee emeritus, has an unusual gig. He tries to apply sense to the ridiculous.

And, unlike so many game analysts assigned to talk us into a Thanksgiving Day turkey-induced soporific trance, when he speaks, I listen.

Those who have tracked and trekked the path of replay reviews — once known as “instant replay reviews” until the “instant” became a matter of wishful folly — know that such rules in all sports are rarely applied as originally intended, which was, sing it together, children:

To correct indisputably rotten calls.

Thus replay rules exist and persist as often nothing better than second opinions, a chance to change “perhaps” to final-decision “maybe” — following slow-motioned, freeze-framed, microscopically examined and enlarged evidence.

How did our sports survive before it?

That these rules, so misapplied, both change and stop games cold don’t matter to those in charge who now, search — imagine! — for ways to speed the pace of games. They’re not going to fix what they broke by foresight-barren group knee-jerk; the toothpaste is out of that genie.

So, in football’s case, we’re left to rely on the TV broadcasting position that replay created: the former football ref. That’s the only upside of replay rules, the inserted input of those trained to know best, or at least better.

Gene Steratore
Gene Steratore
Getty Images

Thus it’s with a Halloween-twisted sense of hope that unintended replay rules will slam the brakes on the Patriots-Jets game Sunday on CBS, just to hear retired NFL and NCAA basketball ref Steratore — a frank, concise speaker of the rules aided by a good sense of both humor and the absurd.

Last Saturday during a game against Ole Miss, LSU QB Jayden Daniels ran a keeper for 9 yards. As he was going down or had just landed, DB Markevious Brown nailed him with his shoulder near the side of Daniels’ head.

Brown was called for targeting — which, if upheld following a mandatory replay, would have meant 15 yards and his ejection.

As Doc Steratore was called in for his diagnosis, slow-motion replays aired and on-field officials huddled:

“I think what they’re talking about, guys, is whether the runner is officially down prior to that contact. We see on this last replay that he is.

“If a runner is down in that situation, he becomes defenseless. The crown of the helmet doesn’t need to be a part of the target. In other words, he doesn’t have to hit with the top of his helmet.

“What they will look at is if he’s making contact to the head or neck area with force, because the runner down is defenseless by definition. We see a pretty good right shoulder into that neck and head area, and that’s what they are going to dissect now, because he’s defenseless.”

So Steratore seemed to second the targeting call. But then …

“It’s tough for the defender, it’s tough for the officials, Gary [Danielson], because in real time it’s such a bang-bang play. It looks so much more exaggerated in slow-motion.”

Gene Steratore conducts a review while he was a ref.
Gene Steratore conducts a review while he was a ref.
Getty Images

Exactly! It didn’t occur in slow motion! It couldn’t have occurred in slow motion! Yet, replay rules allow slow-motion and super slow-motion to determine the outcomes of games. The preposterous is standardized.

Steratore saw and spoke the dilemma. Which takes precedent? The real or the unreal?

This wasn’t a matter of whether the ball hit the glove before the runner touched the bag, this was what football games produce, thus replay rules too often produce, by design, a collection of shrugs as per the human condition.

And as the games become unplugged for slo-mo and slower reviews (you’ll likely see several such cases today) it is praised by mystics — TV’s game analysts — as “getting it right.”

Anyway, the targeting call against Ole Miss was, after nearly three minutes, reversed, the game, played in “real time,” resumed, and the second career for game officials as weekend Judge Judys, created by unintended replay rules, has become a legit profession.

Look forward, in real time, to hearing from you Sunday, Gene!

Don’t expect Eagle to fly too close to NCAA sun

Having watched the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament since Bill Bradley and Princeton battled Cazzie Russell and Michigan in the 1965 national semis on syndicated TV (was it Ch. 9 or Ch. 11?), I’ve grown to know that it doesn’t matter who calls the games as long as they see it the NCAA’s way. 

Thus, it doesn’t much matter that CBS’s Jim Nantz will step down next season as the lead play-by-play man, to be replaced by Ian Eagle. TV makes chumps of good people.

Ian Eagle
Ian Eagle
E. H. Wallop

Eagle will be expected to see it and say it as did Nantz — as if we don’t know any better. 

Coach K, Coach Tom, Coach R, Coach Jim and Coach LMNOP are all great guys who run fabulous programs: no mention of the fat-cash bonuses paid for making the tournament, then wins during the tournament, in addition to the millions in salary, perks, buyouts and the comes-with-foot-stink sneaker dough. 

After all, how could money possibly influence those fine leaders of student-athletes to abandon their great regard for right over wrong? 

Eagle is no less familiar with the ugly truths of big-time college basketball than is Nantz. And he’ll be expected to avoid any detailing of scandal — from financial fraud, to academic fraud, to the recruitment of young men arrested for felonies and those who maintain eligibility despite being semiliterate. 

It’s one of those insane TV realities: You pay billions to show the games then sit up, beg, roll over and play dead, as if the recipients otherwise might not cash your checks. 

Fans — TV viewers — don’t want to hear ugly truths? Given that they never have, how would anyone know? 

Good guys don’t make highlights

I gave it a week, hoping someone in TV would stop long enough to consider it as worthy of emphasis in highlights. But bupkis. 

On ESPN last Saturday, SMU, down two to Cincinnati after scoring a TD with 1:57 left, needed to go for 2. 

QB Preston Stone rolled out, retreated, then threw incomplete as a defender knocked him over. 

A still unidentified Cincy defender, rather than standing over Stone to perform a standard TV-op me-dance, he reached down to help him to his feet, then pulled his dislodged jersey back over his shoulder pads. 

It was a magnanimous, empathetic gesture well worth the nation’s attention. Naturally, though, it didn’t make the cut. Pity. 

Is there no network willing to stop making baseball out of football? A network eager to show it understands football better than the rest? 

Through seven NFL weeks, there have been 17 defensive touchdowns and nine safeties scored. Yet all of those points are added and divided then presented as offensive scoring average stats. 

Then there are QB win-loss records and head-to-head comparisons. As Ben Roethlisberger said, “It’s not tennis.” No, it’s baseball! 


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Tyler Cowan