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Notes, Quotes and Slants

College Notebook No. 9
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

By Denny O'Brien

After further review, replay bad for C-USA


Forgive me if I don't share in Conference USA's enthusiasm over its decision to explore an NFL model for instant replay in league football games.

Where most probably view it as a sensible solution to C-USA's glaring deficiencies in officiating, I see it as an excuse to not improve the performance of the individuals responsible for making the correct call.

But apparently league officials, along with administrators and coaches from member schools, have resigned themselves to the same answer our culture resorts to anytime man's imperfection is revealed.


While I'll be the first to admit that my quality of life improved dramatically the moment TiVo entered my home, the idea of installing one in each of the league's football venues should be pursued with extreme caution. The quality of the product on the field is at risk, not to mention the bank accounts of the many league schools that are in no financial shape to incur additional major expenses.

The cost of adopting the pro model won't be cheap. The NFL spent millions of dollars on the hardware, software, and labor to launch it's current model of instant replay, which is exactly why the Big Ten chose a different route when it blazed the trail for college football's latest cop out du jour.

And it's a trail on which many leagues have hitched their wagons, including the ACC, Mountain West, SEC and Pac-10. What better reason for C-USA to not only adopt instant replay, but to attempt to install the most sophisticated version of it in the college game?

Truthfully, replay in any format is about the last thing administrators should pursue in C-Touchdown. With teams regularly exceeding the 40-point threshold in league contests, the conference would be better served focusing on experimental methods for shortening games instead of measures that will likely lengthen them.

Despite any message the conference office tries to sell — that it had minimal impact in the Big Ten or that only a certain subset of calls can be reviewed — replay will lengthen games. Taking the red handkerchief from the coaches (the one aspect of the NFL model not under consideration) could lengthen them even more if officials take a liberal approach to reviewing questionable calls.

The NFL has greatly reduced the time impact caused by instant replay by making it prudent for coaches to be cautious about challenging plays. Thus, the number of plays reviewed has been reduced considerably since the league adopted its most current structure.

Perhaps a bigger speed bump for C-USA to overcome is the question of fairness and the assurance that replay can be implemented equally league-wide.  Given the age and design of some of the venues, it is unlikely that each will provide all of the necessary camera angles for the replay official to make the correct call.

What's more, the pressure on officials to review plays will be greater at some stadiums than at others. Those venues with state-of-the-art video screens often replay controversial plays, providing coaches with many opportunities to pinpoint the err of an official's ways.

There are some schools that have chosen not to rerun such plays in an effort to keep hostility in the stands to a minimum.

Who knows, maybe with enough research and careful planning C-USA can iron out many of the already four-hour marathons, and that it will be implemented equally conference-wide and with minimal expense to member schools.

If that's the case, there is no denying the potential benefit of such a system. Case in point: Perhaps East Carolina finishes the 2003 season with an extra win after a South Florida "touchdown" is overturned.

But even in the most perfect scenario, there is an element of instant replay in college football with which I disagree. It is that element of perfection and the demand for it at an amateur level.

College football is a game that is played, coached, and officiated by men. Each is integral to the game's success, though no party is without flaw.

Players miss tackles, blow assignments, and commit penalties and turnovers. Coaches sometimes fail to prepare their team, make the necessary adjustments, or call the right play. And yes, game officials occasionally find themselves out of position or outright miss a call.

But the latter isn't the most frequent occurrence, nor is it the most likely cause for any team's misfortune. It is, however, a common scapegoat at which fans, players, and coaches vent their frustrations, and it can come in handy as a convenient alibi for a loss.

Introducing instant replay may require us to occasionally shift the blame off those striped villains. I for one am not ready for that.

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02/23/2007 02:00:00 AM

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