Still Not Sold on VAR

The World Cup has come and gone (congrats Les Bleus!) and, along with it, the most high profile deployment to date of Video Assisted Refereeing or VAR. Regular readers know I’m not a huge fan of VAR (not quite the militant my wife has become, however), but if it’s here to stay it’s at least worth making it the best product it can be. So how did it do on its debut on the global stage?

If I’m being honest – not bad. It seemed to work fairly efficiently and corrected a good number of “wrong” calls. Not all of them, of course, which goes to one of my primary complaints with any form of review in sports – a promise of perfect that can never be realized. And it didn’t take that long. According to SoccerAmerica, 455 incidents were reviewed in 64 games, with only 20 resulting in game stoppages (of an average 80 seconds). And it managed to avoid my nightmare scenario – where team A is fouled while attacking in team B’s box but there’s no call, allowing team B to counter attack and the next stoppage is after team B scores. How does that all get sorted out? It will happen eventually. But, more often than not, the World Cup version of VAR was a good thing.

The other versions still need a lot of work.

Every week, for some reason, MLS puts together a “you be the ref” video with a controversial calls (or non-calls) involving a penalty kick, offside call, and red card.

Invariably they tend to show referees making bad decisions and, in some cases, VAR does very little to help. Witness a recent outburst by Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke, which attracted support from others around the league (before all the tweets disappeared, for some reason).

A lot of this comes down to something that video review in all sports (that I’m aware of, at least) have imported from the world of my day job – standards of review.

When a court of appeals reviews a lower court decision, it doesn’t just hoover up the record and spit out an opinion. The court reviews discrete issues, each with its own rules for reviewing it. Generally speaking, if the issue is purely one of law – say, what a statute means – it’s reviewed de novo, with no deference to the lower court’s decision. On the flip side, a purely factual issue is reviewed for clear error – meaning it’s not just enough for the lower court to have been wrong, but it must be really really wrong for the higher court to do anything about it. Lots of issues fall in the middle and get reviewed for abuse of discretion, which is also pretty deferential to the lower court’s decision.

There are reasons for these in courts of law. Primarily, the thought goes that lower courts that actually sit and watch witnesses testify and such have a better chance of getting the facts right than higher courts working from a cold record. There’s some evidence that isn’t true, but it’s the accepted basis of the system right now.

VAR (and reply in American football) has adopted, basically, the clear error standard, in spite of the reasons for doing so not applying. If anything, the replay booth is in better shape than the ref watching the game live to make correct decisions. Why hamstring things so that only “really really wrong” decisions are corrected? During the World Cup commentators mentioned that the replay officials (or perhaps just the ref making the review – why do they get to judge their own work?) couldn’t even look at replays in slow motion. What’s the point of that? If we’re going to stop the game to get things right, let’s get things right!

That, largely, is what’s keeping me from more fully embracing VAR. On the one hand, it goes too far in messing with the flow of the game. On the other hand, it doesn’t go far enough, since it limits the value of the replays. The powers that be need to work that contradiction out, sooner rather than later.

Or, at the very least, MLS needs to adopt the system FIFA used for the World Cup. It’s eons better than what they do now. If we have to have VAR – and I fear we must – let’s at least make it the best it can be.

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Come See Me!

It’s that time of year again, as several events are coming up around the area where I’ll be hawking my wares and talking about books.

First up is the Lewisburg Literary Festival on August 3 and 4 in the best small town in America, Lewisburg, West Virginia. I’ll be in the Literary Town Square both days with lots of other authors. There all kinds of other things going on, too, including workshops and presentations from writers like David Sheff. Get more details at the festival’s website here.

Lewisburg

Second will be the West Virginia Book Festival on October 26 and 27 in Charleston. It’s a very strong lineup this year, including Dennis Lehane, Debbie Macomber, and John Scalzi. I’ll have a table in the marketplace, so stop by and say hey (unless Sclazi’s on – I’ll be AWOL then). Find out more at the festival’s website here.

2010_Bookfest_Logo

I always enjoy talking we readers – even if they’re not my readers! So be sure to stop by.

Things Change

Sometimes I think this should be the theme song of writers:

I mean, even the most devoted planner would have to admit that no lengthy project finishes precisely the way it was planned. Things always change. As my ancestor (why not?) once said, “the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley.”

I’ve written before about my current work in progress, The Orb of Triska. My intention was for it to be the first of a seven-book series called Empire Falls. Good news! Editing continues apace and I’m really liking where things are going. But, as I said . . . things change.

The plan was for each book in the series to be about the length of Moore Hollow. At about 85,000 words it’s long enough, but not nearly as long as most fantasy novels these days. All of The Water Road books are north of 130,000, for comparison (for another comparison, A Game of Thrones weighs in at 292,000 – and it’s the shortest of that series!). I thought more, shorter books would work better for this story and planned out each volume accordingly.

Then, between editing passes, I started thinking about it again. The series is going to follow three characters and the stories for two of them didn’t really break into that many parts. It was more like three parts. And the other character, who had a more discrete series of adventures, could be easily reworked into three parts, too. In other words, the bones for another trilogy are there. So, I decided to retool a bit.

Empire Falls the proposed seven-book series is dead. Long live The Unari Trilogy! Each of those will be about the length of The Water Road novels. I don’t think anything major will have to be left out, but everything should flow a lot better in three bigger chunks.

That’s where I am these days. You have to be flexible as a writer. Sometimes the best way to do something isn’t the way you thought it should be done in the first place.

Change

Weekly Read: Quick Hits

Books have been piling up a little bit (metaphorically – most of them are in electronic form) around here the past few weeks, so I wanted to take a brief moment to highlight some of the more interesting ones I’ve finished recently.

House of Penance

House of Penance

A graphic novel with a neat idea – a horror take on the famous Winchester Mystery House (link). Built by Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester of Winchester arms fame, the house is full of odd rooms and corridors. Stories have run rampant about why Winchester built it that way, continually adding onto it apparently without plan for years. House of Penance tells how she was trying to appease the spirits of all those killed by her husband’s guns. Like I said, neat idea, and the artwork is fabulous, but the story is really lacking. So little actually goes on, but the story is intent on remaining some kind of puzzle, that it doesn’t land like it could. Glad I read it, but not essential.

The Fifth Season

The_Fifth_Season_novel

While I don’t always agree with the picks for winners of the Hugo, Nebula, and other awards, I always look at the list of nominees as a good suggestion of books to check out. Among this year’s Hugo nominees is The Stone Sky, final part of a trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. I’d never read any of her stuff before, so I backtracked to the first book, The Fifth Season, only to find it won the Hugo, too. Good sign? Damned good. This is a phenomenal book, full of rich and different world building. Jemisin also had the guts to basically make this book all backstory for the main character, but it works so well you just have to admire it. Can’t wait to get to the next one!

The Enchanted

Enchanted

I’m fairly certain everything that happens in this book is a figment of the narrator’s imagination. He’s an inmate on death row in a very Southern gothic sounding prison (although the locale is never specifically identified). He calls it an “enchanted place” and weaves various tales of the people (and non-people) around him. Since there’s no bright line in it that confirms the book is set in a fantasy world, I can only read it (as an attorney who’s talked to hundreds of people in prison) as the extended coping mechanism of a deeply broken, troubled mind. That doesn’t make the book any less compelling. For all its oddity and “this can’t be real”-ness, it may be the best conception of what being locked in a cage is that I’ve ever read.

Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766

Crucible of War

Who’s up for a dense, thick tome about a war most of you forgot about when you were in high school? I was because the wife and I recently took a side trip to Fort Ligonier outside Pittsburgh while we were on a trip.

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It was in this general area (though not this particular fort) where a young George Washington blundered into a massacre that launched what many consider the first “world war,” sparking conflicts from the Americas to Europe to Africa and India. What AUTHOR is mostly interested here is how the conflict that began in the backwoods of Pennsylvania really jump started the machinery of British Empire and, in the process, laid the foundations for the American Revolution. It’s fascinating stuff, but this is pretty dry, serious history – there aren’t any characters developed as through lines for the book, names and places are flung at you with great depth. It’s also, sadly, a good example of how some things in America never change.