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Video: Inside the replay booth during a chaotic championship review

We can all play armchair official from our favorite football-watching chair. It is not as easy when you are the one tasked with making a decision that can have implications on the national champion as the nation is watching and fidgeting.

During college football’s National Championship game, a pivotal play deep in Georgia territory provided a really tight decision making process in the replay booth on two elements: whether Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett threw a forward pass or fumbled and did Crimson Tide defensive back Brian Branch have possession of the ball before going out of bounds.

Football Zebras has been able to obtain the tape of the replay communications, and it shows how carefully and methodically the process is navigated.

The replay official was Peter Vaas, assisted by his communicator Caz Kosiolek, both from the Atlantic Coast Conference. On a typical game during the season, they have a couple of people manipulating the video controls in the booth, and that’s pretty much it. But this wasn’t an ordinary game. Also in the booth is Dean Blandino (in his capacity as the national director of replay) and ACC officiating supervisor Dennis Hennigan. We haven’t been able to identify who, but there also appears to be a secondary replay official on a headset who is a sounding board during the replay process.

Despite a number of high ranking officials, Vaas is the boss of the booth, as the video shows he cuts through the chaos on a complicated review. Being a replay official is not merely watching a TV screen, but one must be able to effectively communicate to those in booth and to the referee on the field. His work starts at the beginning of the play as he recites the down, distance, line of scrimmage, and line to gain.

Time is also of the essence, because network time is exceptionally valuable. Vaas laments at the end of the video how long it took — it was actually much shorter than he believed it to be — but in fairness, this was a double review, and the elements were about as tight as you could get.

Now, this is the first time many people are seeing the inner workings of the replay process. And I can already anticipate the call to make this a broadcast feature for college and NFL games. As interesting as it may be, it is a bad idea generally.

Replay communications must be free and open. There must be an ability to speak without having to choose one’s words carefully for the TV audience. I’m not talking about foul language, but everyone needs to work through what they are seeing even if they draw an incorrect conclusion. For example, someone is confused when referee Duane Heydt mentions there would be intentional grounding in case of a reversal, and believes that the call on the field was changed to incomplete. If television parachutes in the middle of this communication, there is a sound bite that replay don’t know what’s going on, when clearly that is not the case. It’s detrimental to have a brain fart go viral. Also, when Vaas responds to a question about whether the foot is touching the line, he says “well, we don’t think it is.” This is communicating the level of visual evidence, but could be misinterpreted by casual fans that replay is just guessing.

Hats off to Vaas and Kosiolek, a vital part of the officiating crew, who had an unsung major role in the crew’s success in the championship game.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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