The VAR Debate: What Could Football Learn from Split Testing?

I’m pro VAR.

Football matches should be decided on the ability of the players – not the inability of the referee.

There are far too many instances of blatantly wrong decisions ruining games as far as I’m concerned.

VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee. 

This is essentially an additional match official who reviews the decision of the main referee with video footage assistance. As effective as this is in terms of validating decisions, the communication between the VAR official and head referee can take time from the game - but we'll come on to that later. 

Anyway, the first game I watched with VAR was a friendly between France and Spain and it worked well. Spain won the game 2-0, thanks in no small part to not one, but two vital interventions.

One was to disallow a French goal for offside – a decision made so quickly the goal was still being celebrated. The second was to allow a Spain goal which had been ruled out seconds earlier, again for offside.

Justice served. Spain deservedly win a game 2-0 instead of drawing 1-1.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

When dealing with a situation where the decision isn’t clear cut, the current system doesn’t seem able to cope.

The Tottenham vs Rochdale FA Cup tie back in February was difficult to watch – and not just because of the snow.

Too many delays and too much confusion resulted in the match being spoilt to a degree, even though more correct decisions were made on the whole.

This leads me to believe that the problem isn’t with VAR – it’s with the implementation. If you look at the sports in which video technology works the best, more often than not, it’s because it’s taken out of the hands of the match officials.

American Football, Cricket and Tennis all give coaches/players a limited amount of reviews to use on decisions. In Rugby on the other hand, the referee can refer decisions, leading to constant extended VAR stoppages in games.



Testing Another Option

I think a review system is the way forward in football. This means we can eradicate refereeing howlers without disrupting the overall flow of the game.

My idea would be to give managers two reviews a half. To use one, they would notify the fourth official that they want to challenge a decision.

To ensure they only use them to overturn obvious mistakes, two incorrect reviews in a game means you lose one of your substitutes.

So the game keeps flowing, I’d have a clock on the review. A manager only has 15 seconds to confirm he wants to review, and if the video ref can’t overturn the decision in one minute, then the original decision stands.

But, while all this is going on – the game continues. That way, the game only ever actually stops to change an incorrect decision.

More people are turning against VAR because they keep trailing the same broken system – so why not try different versions?


The Marketer's Approach to VAR 

Maybe my version is the best system to use, but we won’t know unless we give it a go. So why not try it alongside another version to see which one gets the best results?

This is what we constantly do with new technology and websites.

We look to add new features to a site to improve the overall product, whilst trying our best to avoid disruption to the current layout/setup where possible.

We’re always looking for ways to improve a user’s experience – so why shouldn’t football attempt to do the same with VAR?

Improve the experience for the fans by reducing the amount of times their team loses due to error out of their control, whilst finding the best way of inserting this into the game with minimal disruption.



The thing with VAR is, they’re testing the same approach sporadically. Selecting a single match at random to experiment with each time.

Although the accuracy of decisions might be good, the fan experience might be ruined somewhat by the disruption. 

They should roll out two different variations and test them simultaneously, as you would with a standard A/B test. 

You couldn’t test my variation with the one they’ve already been testing within the same match – that would be impossible. But if you set aside an equal number of different matches to test both variations in a month, for example, you can compare results.

Split testing is a great way of finding out what works and what doesn't.

As far as websites are concerned, we all know how effective this can be for helping to convert more leads and increasing sales. 

Of course when you contrast this with football, the metrics are very, very different. But in the case of VAR, I would advise the FA to come up with a few other angles of approach to the system and then test extensively.

Accuracy of refereeing decisions and the amount of time taken to make the decision should be the main factors considered. The system with the highest accuracy and shortest amount of stoppage time should be the preferred method.

I suppose it's too late to implement this in time for the World Cup, eh? 

April 5, 2018|

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