In a teleconference Thursday to discuss seemingly mundane changes to targeting enforcement that the NCAA Football Rules committee approved this week, secretary-rules editor Rogers Redding slipped in the real news. The committee will allow conferences on a one-year trial basis to experiment with a “collaborative” replay system, a la the NFL model, where senior-ranking officials working from a command center in a conference office can assist the often overwhelmed official on site.
The SEC proposed the change and will likely implement it this season. Others will surely follow. Most already have a centralized “war room” for monitoring games.
“We requested the opportunity to use collaborative replay on an experimental basis, which we learned today the [rules committee] has approved,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “This is the necessary first step and we will now further engage our membership to determine if and how we will implement this experimental opportunity. We look forward to communicating with other conference offices to discuss the most appropriate and effective implementation of collaborative replay.
“Our office has been considering various logistical approaches which will be finalized prior to the 2016 season if we decide to use this new experimental rule.”
The NFL’s system is far from perfect, but at least it’s befitting 2016, whereas the current college model — in which one guy in the press box working with often outdated technology — has barely changed since its implementation a decade ago.
You’ve got to think last year’s Miami-Duke fiasco might have turned out differently if senior-level officials at an ACC command center in its office could have assisted.
And of course, there are the many, many targeting ejections for borderline or incorrect calls that consistently infuriate fans. Particularly egregious calls in last year’s Michigan State-Michigan game and the UCLA-Nebraska Foster Farms Bowl come to mind.
The rules committee’s primary proposal Thursday (which must still be approved) gives the in-booth replay official more latitude in his reviews, and he in fact can now throw a flag himself in instances of blatant targeting infractions that the on-field crew misses.
But Redding said he does not expect a considerable change either way in the rate of overturns, which CBS’ Solomon reported hit 37 percent in 2015.
The more interesting trend to watch will be how much, if it all, replay changes if multiple conferences adopt a collaborative approach in 2016.
The one downside, of course: Conference-controlled replay calls are sure to provoke even more fan conspiracy theories than there already are. Any call in Alabama’s favor will be chalked up to the command center being located in Birmingham (site of the conference’s headquarters). Ditto the Carolina schools if the ACC were to implement one in Greensboro. Or if a Big Ten review in Chicago benefits a team contending for the College Football Playoff.
But that stuff’s always going to be there, regardless of the system. The more important outcome is that they get more calls right. Because frankly, with all the technology available in 2016 — and with all the GIFs and Vines that circulate on the Internet within minutes of a blown call — there’s simply no excuse for replay officials to botch as many reviews as they currently do.
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter@slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.