GREENSBORO, N.C. — It's a football Saturday at the Atlantic Coast Conference headquarters, and Michael Strickland sits in a windowless room scanning a wall of flat-panel televisions and monitors on a nearby table.
The ACC's senior associate commissioner for football operations and two replay officials are closely watching a pair of league games. They confer with officials at each stadium to ensure any ruling on a sideline catch, dive for the pylon or fumble is the correct call, part of a season-long experiment by the ACC — as well as the Southeastern and Pac-12 conferences — with “collaborative” instant replay that has off-site officials assist on reviews.
Strickland describes it as a “safety net” with a simple goal: Get it right.
“Our view,” Strickland said, “is that two sets of eyes are probably better than just one.”
The ACC and SEC are using collaborative replay for all games at league stadiums, including at independent Notre Dame as an ACC member in other sports. These review centers operate in a supporting role out of the ACC headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the SEC offices in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Pac-12 uses it on a limited basis. Spokesman Dave Hirsch said replay officials at California and Oregon can communicate with the league's San Francisco headquarters.
The Big Ten is studying the idea but hasn't implemented it.
The ACC and SEC will report findings to the NCAA rules committee in the offseason. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw called it “an absolute success” so far and Strickland said it has cut the number of “plays that might've gone the other way.”
Data from both leagues show the added scrutiny was catching more errors. The ACC's rate of calls reversed on review is up from about 24 percent last season to 29 percent through last weekend's games, while the SEC was up from about 37 percent to 41 percent. The average review times — roughly 90 seconds for both — are up slightly.
“There's so much in fairness to players, coaches and fans,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “There's a lot riding on these games. What you always want is, at the end of the day, a game had been fairly won or lost.”
Swofford said the league spent about $500,000 in upgrades to an existing game-day operations center for collaborative replay. The ACC recently allowed an Associated Press reporter inside to spend about 45 minutes observing how it works.
Replay officials can turn a dial to conduct their own frame-by frame evaluation on monitors at their seats within seconds and talk to a stadium replay official via headset if something requires a closer look. They watch games carried via online stream to minimize delays.
The day's first stoppage reviewed whether a called fumble should have been an incompletion or if the receiver was down before the ball came out. Replay official Ralph Pickett ran footage back and forth, and it didn't take long to confirm a clear fumble while conferring with the stadium official.
“I agree, I agree,” he said into the headset. Play quickly resumed, illustrating how the burden still rests largely with stadium officials.
“Once we get the game stopped, we collaborate and we come to the right answer,” Shaw said. “But we still are dependent on that replay official inside the stadium to stop the game. That's his primary role.
“At times, you could get a collaborative discussion with him from the video center in Birmingham, 'Hey, you need to stop this game.' But in our up-tempo world today, really the guy in-stadium has got to make the decision to stop it.”
Still, it can't prevent every mistake.
During North Carolina's win at Miami last month, replay officials never saw the angle that could have overturned a first-quarter touchdown catch by the Tar Heels in the 20-13 win. Footage focused on Austin Proehl's right foot landing inbounds but the ESPN production crew didn't send angles showing Proehl bobble the ball while falling out of bounds.
Regardless, no one has to sell Duke coach David Cutcliffe on steps to reduce the chances of an officiating mistake.
His Blue Devils lost to Miami last year on an eight-lateral kickoff return for a final-play touchdown that shouldn't have counted. The ACC later suspended officials for two games for botching calls on the field and during review.
“I like the idea because you know there's an extra set of eyes and they're seeing it immediately,” Cutcliffe said. “And they can buzz the box and say, 'Whoa, wait a minute here, let's look at this.'”