Is there VAR technology in basketball?

VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has, in various guises, become a regular feature in many professional sports in recent years.

Most commonly associated with soccer, VAR allows a referee to consult a team in a control room with access to different camera angles over close or contentious decisions. In soccer, these could be marginal offside calls, penalty claims, or whether punishment for a foul should be upgraded to a red card.

A referee will then be advised by VAR of a final decision or requested to view the incident on a pitchside monitor to make his conclusion.

VAR is also in use in the NBA but is called Instant Replay. Let’s look at what Instant Replay is and how it is used in basketball.

What is Instant Replay?

Instant Replay allows NBA referees to refer a number of decisions to a replay center where they can get clarity on the true nature of a certain outcome.

First introduced in the 2002/03 season, Instant Reply was initially only used to determine the validity of buzzer-beater shots (points scored as the clock runs down), but has since been expanded to cover whether a shot is worth two or three points, figure out if a player needs to be ejected after a fight, make calls on fouls, which team had the last touch before the ball goes out of bounds, and other such circumstances.

While the referee can refer to the Instant Replay at any time, an NBA coach is awarded one challenge per game where he can contest the on-court call. However, according to the official rule, there “must be clear and conclusive visual evidence that the call was incorrect”.

Recent Rule Changes to Instant Replay

Instant Replay has generally helped improve the accuracy of on-court refereeing in the NBA but there had been some criticism regarding its role in impacting the flow of a game, particularly in the final few minutes.

In an effort to eradicate those issues, the NBA approved changes to the Instant Replay rule for this season – on a one-year trial basis – that prohibits referees from referring to Instant Replay in the final two minutes of games (fourth quarter and overtime) for out-of-bounds violations. Conversely, the league reversed the same decision for coaches, who can now challenge out-of-bounds violations in the final two minutes, when previously they couldn’t.

Pros of Instant Replay

As mentioned, the accuracy of officiating in the NBA has improved thanks to the additional support referees now receive from the Instant Replay center. The pace of a game is so fast, with close decisions happening all the time, so the ability to refer these difficult calls – especially in clutch moments of close games – alleviates some of the pressure from referees. Not only does it limit mistakes, but also reduces the amount of blame game that players, coaches, and fans inevitably engage in after they feel hard done by following a game decided by a contentious decision.

Additionally, the Coach’s Challenge means all the power is not with the referees and teams have a measure of control over contesting one decision per game.

Cons of Instant Replay

Like the introduction of VAR in soccer, Instant Replay can sometimes affect the pace and momentum of an NBA game.A referee frequently referring to the Instant Replay center, waiting a few minutes for the outcome, and eventually making a final decision can impact the flow of the action.

Similarly, the referral to Instant Replay can impact the emotional experience of watching an NBA game. Players and fans could start celebrating a crucial basket or victory, only for the Instant Replay to be referred to and celebrations forced to be put on hold or denied. Nonetheless, instant replay and technology can help to make the game more fair and to help the referees in their decisions, no doubt.

However, if teams and fans demand greater accuracy to prevent bad decisions from affecting the outcome of the game, that is one of the consequences of introducing more game technology into basketball.

Final Thoughts

Technology can also be used to measure players’ stats and help not only the team staff to understand better their strengths and limitations, but also the bookmakers to produce more accurate odds. The only thing they can’t predict is the wild transfer rumors, like the ones here:

So, don’t worry. Technology won’t take away the magic of sports, the emotions, the transfers and all the adrenaline that keeps people excited about the matches. That’s the human side and the most authentic part of basketball and other team sports.

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