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NFL should consider NCAA replay model



After Further Review: A look at the NFL replay review system

Part 1 of a 4-part series

After many confusing games this season where instant replay was the focal point, it might be time for the NFL to do away with coach’s challenges and adopt the current NCAA instant replay system.

An NCAA referee communicates with an instant replay official. The replay official determines to overturn or uphold the call; there is no “under the hood” in the NCAA.

Right now the NCAA uses a system where the coach gets to use one challenge per game and the instant replay official can initiate a review at any time.  There are only certain plays that are subject to review.  All instant replay decisions are made by the instant replay official in the booth and communicated to the referee on the field. 

The NCAA system is very similar to the original instant replay system the NFL used from 1985-91.  The system lasted six years, but owners voted to abolish it because it chopped up the game’s flow.  Under the old system, the replay official could initiate a review over just about all aspects of the game except the fouls called on the field.  At the time, the NFL said instant replay reviews would take under a half a minute.  But soon, fans, coaches, and players grew frustrated staring up at the press box as many reviews took several minutes to complete.  Another reason that ended the first round of NFL replay in 1991 was the technology at the time.  High definition television was not available back then, and a videotape review couldn’t see the details we can see with digital technology today.

When the NFL brought back instant replay in 1999 almost the entire onus on initiating a review fell on the head coach.  It was up to him to make the decision to stop the action and challenge the call to a review.  The only exception to a coach’s challenge was in the last two minutes of the half where the replay official could stop action for a “booth challenge.”  The NFL wanted the referee on the field to make the replay decision – no more staring up at the press box – and he only had 60-seconds to view the replay monitor which assured that there would be no more multiple-minute reviews.  Only certain plays were subject to review (boundary plays, catch or no catch, etc.) so instant replay could interrupt the action only a few times per game.  Starting last year, the NFL expanded the replay official’s duties to automatically confirm all scoring plays, and this year the NFL mandated that replay official confirm turnovers.  If the replay official has a question about the play, he calls the referee over to the hood for a review.


Replay system fine with a few tweaks

Over the past two years the replay official’s duties have drastically expanded.  While the coach still has the ability to throw the red flag, several highly publicized gaffes over what is and not subject to a challenge or review has put the replay process back in the harsh spotlight. 

It is time for the NFL to retire the coach’s challenge aspect of instant replay and turn to the NCAA model.  The coaches have too much to do on the sideline and, as we have seen in the past weeks, do not know the rules about what is subject to review.  The NCAA instant replay model has very strict rules over what is and is not subject to review, as does the NFL.  The replay official knows what’s reviewable and he can then initiate a replay.  The replay official can still have a time limit to review the play.  I attend between five and seven college football games per season, and the instant replay system at the NCAA runs very smoothly.  It can work in the NFL, too.

I have grown tired of coaches who don’t know the complicated instant replay rules.  The replay official already is charged with confirming many of the controversial calls that a coach would challenge now.  Let’s retire the red flags and leave the instant replays in the hands of the instant replay official.

Brief summary of NCAA and NFL instant replay procedures

Photo by: Brian Cantoni/Flickr

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"