Tommy Hicks: How ‘instant’ will the instant replay reviews be?

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How many times has a high school football coach wanted to throw his own flag in a game, drawing attention to what he feels was the wrong call? Hoping to get the officials to reverse their decision?

Too many to count.

But starting this year, coaches whose teams are members of the Alabama High School Athletic Association will have the opportunity to do just that. Armed with a red flag, coaches will be able to challenge a call made on the field.

Welcome to instant replay, prep football style.

The AHSAA, which has been talking about instituting the rule for a few years now, and even used instant replay in a North-South All-Star Game a few seasons back and also during two spring games in 2016 as an experiment, has pulled the trigger and will allow the use of instant replay, at least for the next three seasons.

The AHSAA’s Central Board voted on the change last week.

For the most part, the change is being welcomed by coaches, especially those at the state’s bigger schools where replay technology has been used since 2014 to review offensive and defensive drives on the sidelines, usually via tablet or iPad. Coaches at smaller schools may be at a disadvantage based on financial considerations in terms of equipment and manpower to operate the equipment, but those coaches too recognize the new rule could be helpful.

The AHSAA has always been willing to make bold steps. This particular step places the organization at the forefront in high school sports.

The organization received permission from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to provide instant replay for member schools for a three-year period. The AHSAA is partnering with DVSport Inc., a Pittsburgh, Pa., software company which provides instant replay for NCAA conferences including the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, Sun Belt and many other. It also supplies instant replays for the College Football Playoffs, the NAIA national championship game and other postseason games.

“We are grateful to the NFHS for approving our request,’’ 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.

“While this replay process is in the initial stages of development, the AHSAA is committed to working with DVSport and the NFHS to develop a cost-effective process to assist both our coaches and officials. In addition, all football state championship games will use the same replay fan experience DVSport provides for SEC contests.’’

One of the phrases used by Savarese is one that has been repeated over and over across the state as the main reason for making the move — to get the call right. At the end of the day that’s what the main reason for going to instant replay.

Coaches recognize officials across the state have a tough job. The game is faster than it has ever been, especially with hurry-up offenses and bigger, faster and stronger athletes. Making split-second decisions is a difficult task and sometimes calls are going to be missed. Coaches who support this decision to a man say they know the officials’ job is tough ad this rule will provide an opportunity to “get it right” on those occasions when an officials’ call is questioned. Now, coaches and officials will be able to go to the replay and review the action.

Now, there are some issues there. Again, many of the bigger schools, armed with larger athletic budgets, already have the technology in place and often have multiple camera angles available for each play, generally an end zone view and views from both sidelines. But they may not be the case at smaller schools, or even some bigger schools for that matter. What if there is only one camera angle available? What if that angle doesn’t offer a clear view of the play in question?

For sure, there are a lot of kinks that will need to be worked out. In some cases, schools will have to make investments to provide the instant replay availability, though Savarese noted the cost to schools for the service will be minimal. And how “instant” will the instant replay reviews be? Will adding the rule drag out the length of games or have an effect in terms of rhythm of the game?

It appears we won’t get some answers to those questions until we get started this season. But it will certainly be interesting to gauge how the new rule is applied and its effectiveness as we go along.

Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at