Mark Clark: For goodness sake, say it ain’t so

Alabama High School Executive Director Steve Savarese likes to be on the cutting edge when it comes to high school sports in this state. He has had many innovative ideas that have advanced the various prep competitions. But, in an announcement last week – an announcement that had been expected – the AHSAA has received a three-year approval from the National Federation of State High School Associations for the use of instant replay during regular season football games beginning this fall.

“The purpose of instant replay is to aid the officials in getting it right,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said. “This gives our officials the opportunity to use the same technology coaches have been equipped with on their sidelines to get the call right.”

The states of New Jersey and Minnesota, have used or plan to use replay in championship games, but our state is believed to the first to have instant replay available at all high school games. Well, it is supposed to be available at all high school games. It is doubtful it will be available at some smaller schools and if it is, it could be a total waste.

Even though the concept of instant replay will be available at many high schools around the state – just like schools are supposed to have installed 24-second clocks already – the ability to review plays to “get it right” will be limited by the number of camera angles available. This is not the NFL or college football where there are seemingly unlimited views of each play. This is high school football in Alabama where if there are two views – one from the Press Box side of the home stadium and one from an end zone – are likely the only ones that will be available. And, those are not always that great.

Last season, during a Central High football game, an opposing runner stepped out of bounds along the home team’s sideline not once, but two times. The game official on that side missed the runner stepping out of bounds. Had there been instant replay available, it likely would not have changed what happened. First, the camera on the Press Box side of the stadium would have been blocked by the number of people standing along the sideline – thus, it would not have picked up the runner’s missteps. There is a 50-50 chance the end zone camera could have allowed the officials to correct the call. So, there was a 25 percent chance – a one in four chance – of the officials being able to correct the error by looking at an instant replay.

And how long would that have taken? Watching college and professional football games, it seems to take forever for officials to decide if an error needs to be corrected. Most times, the plays are not. They are not corrected because, even with perhaps 20 or more camera angles available, there is no clear view to make a case for changing the results of a play. It is ludicrous to think two possible angles will give officials the opportunity to make a correction.

According to a press release from the AHSAA, the protocol for instant replay will be as follows: “Section 1. Instant replay is a process whereby video review is used to let stand or reverse certain on-field decisions made by game officials.

“Section 2. The instant replay process operates under the assumption that the official’s ruling on the field is correct. The replay official may reverse a ruling only if the video evidence convinces him or her beyond all doubt that the ruling on the field was incorrect. Without indisputable video evidence that the ruling on the field was incorrect, the ruling will stand as called.”

There will only be one instant replay system allowed – the DVSport Instant Replay’s system. No other instant replay system will be allowed. Savarese expects about 100 of the state’s 386 football playing schools to use the system this fall. The cost of the system depends on the number of camera views available.

This is how the new system will work. Each team’s head coach will have a red flag to throw on the field to challenge a play. The flag must be thrown before the start of the next play. Coaches are limited to two challenges per contest unless they win the challenge. Then, the coach will still have his two challenges available.

An official who was not involved in the play and the referee will review each challenge. To be overturned, the video evidence must be conclusive. Reversed calls will result in the officials correcting the call. If the call is not overturned, the team that made the challenge will be charged a timeout. If that team loses its challenge and does not have a timeout, it will be penalized for a delay of the game.

If a coach challenges a play that cannot be reviewed, his team will be charged with a timeout or a delay of game penalty if that team is out of timeouts.

In theory, all plays are reviewable. Coaches may not challenge a flag being thrown or not being thrown on a play. However, there are some exceptions – review is allowed to see if there were more than 11 players on the field for a team, whether a ball broke the plain off the end zone, whether a player threw a forward pass is made beyond the line of scrimmage and a penalty that resulted in the disqualification of a player for a blindside block, spearing or fighting.

“If we’re looking to change every single call, we’re doing this for the wrong reason. The egregious call, the obvious call, that’s why we’re trying to do this,” Savarese said.

No, I do not expect the officials to get every call right. I expect them to get most calls right. I expect them to be honest and fair to both teams. I expect they can do a better job the way things are right now instead of trying to emulate a professional league that cannot determine when a catch is a catch with some expensive equipment that in my opinion is just overkill.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East Alabama.