by Robert Ferringo - 09/09/2005
Just a few minutes into the Bowling Green-Wisconsin game last weekend, the Badgers fans came to their feet with a roar. It wasn't a deep seam completion or a slashing 30-yard run that got them going. No. It was the fans' reaction to the officials' decision to review a questionable Bowling Green touchdown.
Instant replay crept into college football during the 2004 season. The Big Ten employed a modified version of the controversial convention, and it was a rousing success. This year, the NCAA offered instant replays to the major conferences and nine of the 11 happily accepted. Only the WAC and the Sun Belt refused, but both are aiming towards next season. All 28 bowl games will utilize review.
This is a bold move for a tradition-laden sport. However, between the increased parity, mounting pressure on coaching staffs and athletic directors to win, and bowl game payouts that total millions of dollars, it was the logical time to embrace the technology.
It's basically just like the TiVo or DVR that many people have in their house - only there's no missing remote and no porn saved into the memory. Last season it cost about $100,000 for the Big Ten to install the necessary cameras into each stadium. This year it will cost the SEC, for example, nearly $700,000 to equip their stadiums.
The NCAA's replay system is set up under the same premise as the NFL's. The main difference is that challenges aren't initiated by the coaches. There is no fumbling with red hankies or timeouts to be wagered. Instead there's a three-man crew in a booth that keeps an eye on every play and decides which ones are reviewable. An observer buzzes the head official on the field, and then it is up to that official to make a final ruling.
While the pressure in this setup is off of the coaches, it also makes it very difficult for the three observers. They basically are scrambling to keep up with every down, and have to decide in a split-second what is worth reviewing or not. A close call that they choose not to take a second look at can be just as disheartening to fans as one that gets overturned.
The main complaint against instant replay in sports has always been that it slows up the game. Last year it was used in 28 of 57 games involving Big Ten teams. Forty-three calls were reviewed and 21 were overturned. Even with all of that, the average game time only increased by about three minutes.
Three minutes is a small price to pay for increased accuracy in officiating. I know it can be a momentum killer, but with a bowl bid on the line you wouldn't want your team to get screwed when some overweight line judge is out of position and mistakenly says that your running back stepped out of bounds. I mean seriously, if I can tell what the correct call is while equal parts hung over and drunk from the comfort of my couch I think that the officials should be able to get it right.
Both the NFL and the NCAA versions have their pros and cons. I would like to see a hybrid that includes aspects of both. I do think that coaches should be allowed to have a say in whether or not a play should be reviewed, but I like the fact that the NCAA has a team devoted to catching plays that might slip through the cracks. I also am unsure of whether or not there should be a limit on the amount of plays that are reviewed. I know you don't want people pissing and moaning over every little play, but if the goal is to get the call correct then it shouldn't matter if it's the first or the eighth replay.
I also think that the NFL needs to get rid of that ridiculous peep show booth on the sideline. It looks foolish and it just wastes time. Why can't they just have an extra official on a La-Z-Boy in the booth upstairs, armed with several TV's set to check out all of the different angles? That official can take a second look and just let the official on the field know what the right call is. It's simple. It's easy. And it saves time. Who would complain?
The NCAA's new system still isn't infallible. In the opening week of the season there was a botched call in the Louisville/Kentucky game that may have cost the Wildcats a shot at the upset. Kentucky was driving for the tying score, but quarterback Andre Woodson fumbled at the Cardinals two-yard line. Louisville recovered, but since Woodson touched the ball while he was out of bounds it should have been ruled dead and the Wildcats should have maintained possession.
But for whatever reason the officials decided not to review it. They saw that it was clearly a fumble, but didn't think to check and see if he touched it out of bounds. Louisville dodged a bullet and Kentucky was left crying foul.
"I don't understand why we have instant replay if we don't look at a pivotal play in the game like that," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said to reporters after the game. "All we have to do is look at it."
I think that, in some small way, how you look at the instant replay in sports issue reflects how you look at people in general. If you're for replay, you're likely an optimist who believes that we should be striving towards perfection. If you're against instant replay in sports, you're more pragmatic. You understand and accept human infallibility and believe that the sooner we embrace that the sooner we can move on. The system will never be perfect, but it's here to stay.
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