Centralized Replay In College Football: It’s Time

Let it be said up front: I loathe Bud Selig.

I say this as a Montreal Expo fan, a baseball fan, and a citizen of the United States. Selig has harmed the Expos, the sport of baseball, and the nation that gave rise to the grand ol’ game in numerous ways. Tweet me, and you’ll get the full story.

Yet, with that having been said, the commissioner of Major League Baseball — no longer the worst commissioner in North American pro sports (thank you, Roger Goodell) — deserves abundant credit for being willing to install widespread instant replay in his sport, all from a command center the National Hockey League pioneered.

Is baseball’s embrace of expansive replay a perfect system? Definitely not. An occasional call is still improbably missed. Some plays with very complex rule interpretations can also make replay a headache:

Yet, in the end, expanded replay in baseball has been a runaway success. Dozens and dozens of razor-close calls, week after week, get overturned… not because umpires suck — they’re really good at their jobs — but because the margins of plays are so small.

This reinforces my number one (and two, and three, and nine, and seventy-six, and two hundred twenty-eight) point about officiating in the age of replay technology: It is NOT a negative commentary on officials to use as much replay as often as humanly possible. This is NOT a criticism of officials. Sports, in the modern age, given their pace of play and the rapidity with which bang-bang sequences unfold, are simply very hard to officiate in real time. Replay is not a rebuke to an official, merely a backup system which dramatically improves the percentage of plays that end up being properly called.

This is the point of officiating, and it is the same point of replay: Get as many calls right as possible. Every call won’t be right (most likely), but darnit, sports should aim to get as close to perfect as possible. This is what all human endeavor is supposed to shoot for, anyway.


Major League Baseball’s use of NHL-style command center replay should serve as an invitation for college football’s power conferences to do the same. It’s time. The money flowing in and through conference coffers is there. Now, the conference commissioners just need to be sold on the idea. It shouldn’t be a hard sell, especially in Big 12 offices after the past weekend.

This idea definitely shouldn’t be a hard sell in Ames, Iowa, home of the Iowa State Cyclones.


You remember this play from 2013, right?

Well, guess what? Iowa State got jobbed AGAIN by the replay system this past Saturday, but in a different way: No, a play wasn’t incorrectly reviewed this time. The play wasn’t even brought up for review.

You might have seen the Kansas State-Iowa State game in the early window on Saturday. If you didn’t, simply know that just before halftime, with Iowa State leading, 28-13, Kansas State had the ball at the ISU 16. A pass to KSU receiver Tyler Lockett at the 1 was ruled complete, when replay showed Lockett’s leg (near the knee) touching the pylon on the sideline. A receiver cannot contact the pylon during the process of securing the ball, since the pylon — for purposes of a pass reception — is considered out of bounds.

Yes, the play was certainly close, so it’s not as though the on-field call was a bad one. It wasn’t. The official was looking at Lockett’s feet, which did get in bounds. Sound officiating technique was observed on the play. This was a rare instance in which the pylon came into the picture.

Yet, the very reality that this was a close play should have been enough to make the replay reviewer insist on a review. The fact that the play moved the ball to the 1-yard line should have made it doubly important to get the play reviewed. The fact that this was in the final minute of the half should have made it exponentially more important to review the play. All the basic details of the play are contained in this report from the Associated Press, which noted the suspension of the replay reviewer and communicator for not reviewing the play.

So, a huge play wasn’t reviewed… that’s pretty rare, right?


Just last week in my examination of officiating and replay from the previous Saturday of college football, I noted that a key play in the Ohio State-Navy game was not reviewed.  If you watch enough college football — and that’s pretty much my job — you’ll find several instances each Saturday in which plays should be reviewed but aren’t. Ball spots, regardless of the down, are some of the more conspicuous kinds of plays that just aren’t reviewed enough, but they’re hardly the only kind of ruling which doesn’t receive enough replay scrutiny.

It’s a sad commentary on the quality of replay-booth reviewers, but it’s true. The performance of these people — who are central to the larger replay system as it currently exists — is decidedly mixed, a hit-and-miss reality. Some ACC booth reviewers have, in recent years, performed horribly — you could ask Virginia Tech fans after a horrible set of mistakes in a road game at Clemson a few years ago. Other ACC bloggers and chroniclers could tell you more such stories of Replay Gone Wrong.

The solution here is so obvious: Use MLB’s and the NHL’s central command center. The ACC, for instance, could tap into ESPNU’s headquarters in Charlotte. The SEC could have a war room in Birmingham, the Pac-12 in tech-savvy San Francisco, the Big Ten in Chicago, the Big 12 in Kansas City.

This might be a matter of psychology, or getting more competent employees, or both, but in the end, having people in a league office or under the watch of league executives would very likely focus and improve one’s level of performance. Being isolated in one stadium’s replay booth — perhaps with a communications system that isn’t as reliable as it might be in another stadium, or maybe with the distraction of seeing a play unfold in real time, creating the false impression of certainty — creates a different visual and cognitive reality for the replay reviewer and the replay communicator. In a central command center, it’s far easier to be focused on — and vigilant about — replay and nothing but replay.

It makes so much sense.

Baseball, after years of resisting the call to adopt this system, finally relented. Not only did no one die; the sport benefited immensely from the change.

If Bud Selig can exhibit common sense, ye power conferences of college football, you sure can as well.

It’s time.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |