Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Computers and instant polls are threatening to change how we watch televised sports.


Maybe it’s our desire for instant gratification. Maybe it’s simple curiosity. Maybe it’s our insatiable desire to give our two cents worth.


A society that gives us instant coffee, drive-thru lanes at banks and fast-food restaurants, and express lanes in large department stores, has come up with another gimmick to speed up our lives.


All of which brings us to the recent World Series on Fox and pro football on ESPN. During games, Fox flashed a question on the screen. For example, “Would you leave pitcher Curt Schilling in the game or take him out?”


Within a minute or so, wired viewers-viewers at home wired into a computer-would give their two cents worth. The results were shared with the TV audience.


Who knows how many people voted, but it’s obvious there are people in this great nation with nothing better to do than watch games with a laptop so they can vote on such weighty issues as which pitcher should be in the game.


While officials during a pro football game were reviewing a play, ESPN asked viewers whether they felt the play should stand or be overturned.


Never mind that their opinion didn’t matter, more than 55,000 people gave theirs anyway.


This is only the beginning, folks.


How long do you suppose it will be until we see football broadcasts broaden the use of this technology? Think of the potential questions.


“What play should Kansas City run on third down and nine yards to go?”


“Should Kansas City replace Trent Green at quarterback?”


“What player should the Chiefs draft in the first round next spring?”


It’s like having a sports talk show while the game is in progress.


Maybe five years from now fans will bring laptops to local high school and college games. Consider the following scenario.


After Johnny throws the ball away in a Hillsboro High School basketball game, someone raises the question, “Do you think Coach Knoll should take Johnny out of the game?”


Immediately everyone in the gym casts a vote on his or her laptop. Ninety percent of the fans say Johnny should be taken out of the game. Johnny’s family and close friends vote to leave him in.


The information is shared with Coach Knoll on the bench. He ignores the poll and leaves Johnny in the game. The disgruntled fans don’t say too much because Hillsboro is winning the game.


However, woe unto Coach Knoll if the game turns around while Johnny is playing, or if Johnny immediately makes another turnover.


All kinds of questions could be asked during the course of a basketball game.


“Should Tabor play a zone defense?”


“Should Coach Don Brubacher use a full-court press?”


“Should Coach Rusty Allen argue with an official over a questionable call?”


“Should Becky Carlson rest her starters with a 25-point lead and seven minutes to play?”


I’ll admit that the questions and responses to the mini-polls during the World Series were mildly entertaining. I could be overreacting.


The truth is that we’ve always shared our opinions in one form or another. Who hasn’t second-guessed a coach’s decision the next day in a discussion with friends over the water cooler?


Just to keep things in perspective, it’s worth remembering that there isn’t much new under the sun. As a basketball official, I can assure you that I receive immediate feedback on calls made during a game.


A computer poll simply lets us give immediate, anonymous feedback.


That’s the American way. Avoid accountability whenever possible.


Even this newspaper welcomes instant feedback. You don’t have to wait a week for your letter to the editor to be published. If you have access to the Internet, you can go on the Free Press Web site right now and be the first to respond to stories in the paper, including Sideline Slants.


Speaking of instant polls, I’m recommending that the editor ask for your input on the following:


Sports columnist Joe Kleinsasser is (a) a fantastic columnist, (b) extremely insightful and writes well-thought-out columns, (c) underpaid, or (d) all of the above.


As I said before, be afraid. Be very afraid.

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