Some thoughts on last week’s announcement by the Alabama High School Athletic Association that it will permit the use of instant replay in high school football games this fall ...
The details for those who missed them: The AHSAA has obtained a waiver from the National High School Federation (whose rules actually prohibit instant replay) to try it in Alabama for three years as a first-in-the-nation experiment (at least for regular-season games).
No school will be required to use it; the AHSAA expects a quarter to 30 percent of them will. The same vendor that provides replay services for Southeastern Conference games will supply the system.
Shortest version of how it works: Officials can tap into a team’s existing video feed. Coaches will get two challenges a game (penalties aren’t subject to review, only things like “was the player in or out of bounds when catching a ball”). The referee and an official not involved in the disputed play will decide them using a portable device like an iPad. An unsuccessful challenge will cost a team a timeout (or a delay of game penalty if it has no timeouts left).
Whether it’s fans who metaphorically live or die with their teams, or coaches whose continued employment depends on the outcome of these games, those who want officials to get their calls right, whatever it takes, period, case and discussion closed, are cheering.
That’s particularly true if their team has at some point been burned by what proved to be human error. A local high school coach once described the dilemma to one of our sports writers: “This is my vocation, and my future is in the hands of people to whom this is an avocation.”
Conversely, there are folks who still like the idea that sports are judged or officiated by imperfect human beings, even if there’s a risk of them getting a call wrong. They detest the breaks in game action, with officials standing around while plays are “under review.” They’re booing this decision.
Where are we? Call us understanding of those cheering, closer to those booing and concerned both about the logistics, execution and necessity of this idea, and the caste system it potentially could set up among schools.
The cost of the replay equipment was described as “minimal” by the AHSAA. However, a Class 7A school in an affluent urban area would have a different definition of that word than a rural Class 1A school that struggles to stock enough toilet paper, let alone educational materials.
So, one school might be operating with a single camera, compared to another school that might ring its stadium with cameras to catch every possible angle of a play. Is it fair to have schools — literally, not as a cliché — on two different playing fields?
That discrepancy also could affect replay decisions. If you’re tasked with making sense of an iPad video, with a grumbling, impatient crowd waiting for your assessment, would you rather have that video recorded and watch it in a nice, well-lit stadium, or a place (and there still are some in Alabama) where people need miner’s hats to see?
Also, could the AHSAA’s “not mandatory” attitude stiffen a little should the number of schools using instant replay not prove satisfactory?
Neither will ever say it directly, but we imagine the NHSF and the AHSAA would really like to see this work. Ultimately, that will require a complete buy-in, and that’s not going to happen until “it’s there if you want it” becomes “do it.”
Basically, we don’t see the need for this in every regular-season game. It’s overkill and an unnecessary expense. Reserve it for playoff or championship games.
That doesn’t mean regular-season games aren’t important. We know they are to players (most of whom will never play a down of football past high school), coaches, fans and communities. That doesn’t mean officials shouldn’t have a commitment to calling plays right in those games, either.
Just how far do you want to go — how much money do you want to spend; how much hassle do you want to incur — to try and get there?