After Miami-Duke fiasco, should college adopt NFL-style replay?
In the wake of Saturday night’s Miami-Duke officiating fiasco, which prompted the ACC on Sunday to suspend both the on-field crew and replay officials, many are questioning college football’s seemingly archaic review system. Despite a nine-minute review, the official in the booth somehow failed to see that a Miami runner’s knee was down prior to one of the many laterals early in the play.
Rogers Redding, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officiating, told FOX Sports on Sunday that he and the various conference coordinators had already been discussing whether to adopt a centralized replay model like those used by the NFL and Major League Baseball. Unlike college football, where a single replay official in the press box conducts all reviews, the NFL last year began operating a central command center in New York where multiple officials watch games and oversee reviews.
Redding emphasized that, “In the big picture, the replay process is in good shape.” The NCAA conducts a two-day national meeting every summer of all conferences’ replay officials for better instruction, and various conferences indicate that replay officials get calls right at least 95 percent of the time.
“The conferences work to refine it, but then a high-profile situation like last night happens, and it looks like oh my gosh, this is all falling apart, and the reality is it’s not,” Redding said.
But with improvements in technology, and the increasing stakes in the College Football Playoff era (Saturday night’s call may wind up costing Duke a shot at the ACC Coastal title), there’s a growing unease with a system that’s changed only marginally since the Big Ten first introduced replay in 2005.
“These conversations are taking place, because people are concerned about the consistency of replay across the country,” Redding said. “It may appear to be different from conference to conference, but it can be different from official to official within a conference.”
The primary obstacles for college football to adopt the NFL model is the sheer number of games that take place every Saturday and the considerable expense likely to be involved.
“The NFL has 32 teams, they’ve got a small universe and a very large budget to manage it,” said Redding, who has visited the NFL’s command center. “… That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done, but what resources would it take to have one replay center for the entire nation? The conversations I’ve had have not been about that so much as what can we do conference by conference, or conferences sharing resources? Conceptually, it makes sense to do it, but the devils are in the details.”
College officiating is still managed primarily on the conference level. Redding serves in an advisory capacity, but the conferences themselves hire and evaluate their own officials. Any radical NCAA rules change would likely have to be approved by them, possibly through the Power 5 autonomy model.
Speaking on a teleconference Sunday afternoon, Duke coach David Cutcliffe went so far as to say there should be a mechanism to reverse the game’s outcome when a replay official makes such a negligent error.
"If we’re going to get it right, then let’s get it right, otherwise, let’s not have replay," Cutcliffe said. "Something’s got to happen. It’s just unfair to the players of the game."
Cutcliffe, who serves on the AFCA Board of Trustees and NCAA Football Rules committee, said he’s been part of conversations on reforming the replay system but acknowledges the difficulties.
“I’d be in favor of it, but I don’t know what the cost would be,” he said. “… That would be an improvement, you’d have a bank of people if need be that can get something right with better pictures, better equipment, etc., but you’d be getting into a major expense.”
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.