Instant replay in college football doesn’t need to be fixed.
It needs to be scrapped.
Last Saturday’s failure of the replay system to overturn what appeared to be an obvious incorrect ruling on the field to give Miami an improbable and unjustified win over Duke should be the final piece of evidence dooming replay to history’s back room full of innovations that only made things worse.
Like asbestos and Twitter, instant replay in college football creates as many problems as it solves.
It’s time to go back to the old ways, to live with the mistakes, to embrace human error, to let the kids play.
One needs only to look at the process that led to the Duke-Miami fiasco, where missed calls on the field were sent upstairs for review and replay official Andrew Panucci somehow contrived not to see what was readily apparent in both video and still frames, that a Miami player’s knee was down early in the eight-lateral touchdown return.
The fact that a replay official took time to examine the play and still got it wrong only heightened the sense of injustice.
Unlike a week earlier, when the ACC stood by its officials after a Ryan Switzer punt return was surprisingly called back for what was two days later deemed an invalid fair-catch signal – even after Switzer announced the officials told him on the field they botched the call – the conference was quick to publicly suspend the on-field crew and the replay official and communicator for two games for several mistakes, a step toward restoring weakened confidence in ACC officiating.
Replay was created, implemented and sustained precisely to fix situations like the final play of the Duke-Miami game. It is the last line of defense against an incorrect call that could change a game – or a season. And it failed. Spectacularly.
It was born of the best of intentions. With television broadcasts of football games ubiquitous, it made all the sense in the world to use the available technology to right wrongs and impose justice. Officials in any sport are only human, but it was all too obvious to use the benefit of time and video to fix whatever errors were made, within reason.
And to a certain extent, that has worked as planned. Incorrect calls are often overturned. A high standard of evidence is required. And as the process has gotten more polished, games are delayed less than they were when replay was first introduced.
As replay became more of a part of the game, it changed the way the game is officiated. Officials are more willing to let plays proceed rather than blow them dead because replay can’t retroactively award a touchdown once a play has been ruled down on the field. More worryingly, rules were introduced that depend entirely on replay for their effective use – it’s almost impossible to get a targeting call right in real time, requiring an ex post facto review of every one.
Replay has become a crutch. And we’ve become numb to the delays, the stoppages, the unnecessary reviews that only serve to slow the game down. It’s not just college football. The NFL has a set time for deliberation, but the NHL’s Toronto war room will spend minutes agonizing over a blown-up freeze-frame. Even baseball, never the fastest-paced sport to start, now has agonizingly long reviews.
At some point, we all just accepted that bringing everything to a sudden halt was part of the game. It doesn’t have to be.
It’s time for college football to go backward, to go retro, to go replay-free.
That means trusting the men on the field to do their best. They may not always get it right. But even with replay, they can still get it wrong. Is the occasional overturned call worth the time spent waiting?
Living with the call on the field, right or wrong, is better than a fail-safe system that fails in the most spectacular way possible.