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More on replay review

Kevin Donahue at Fanblogs commented on the NCAA's plan to impose a uniform replay review system in College Football next season. That departures from uniform rules are costly was made clear during the bowl games over the holidays. Asking officials to do a different job in the bowl game than they're accustomed to produces poor results. Another obvious point is that the games are too long. The ratio of downtime to action is unacceptably high in college football.

With that latter thought in mind, consider Kevin's wish that the NCAA adopt the "coaches' challenge system" used in the NFL. One conference, the Mountain West, allows coaches to challenge and thereby obtain a review of calls on the field. This has a ring of fairness to it, but the data persuade me that it's not the best option. The Mountain West led all conferences in reviewed calls - at 1.76 reviews per game, the game is stopped more often than in the other conferences, who average 1.04 per game. Most reviews in the MWC are futile as well; the 20% reversal rate tops only Conference USA's 12% (other conferences reverse about one call in three).

Booth reviews are a good thing when there is substantial doubt about the correctness of an official's call. But as we see in the NFL every week, coaches make liberal use of their challenges, particularly in last gasp scenarios. These slow down the game when every TV viewer in the land can see that the challenge is hopeless. Officials are imperfect, but the motives of coaches do not uniformly align with the interests of the paying public either.

The key issue in choosing between systems is the decision to review. I think it is clear that coaches choose "too many," and it is arguable that the booth officials choose "too few." So, as always, there is a tradeoff. On balance, the booth officials did a decent job this year, with a few high profile exceptions. Unless evidence accumulates that these guys are napping on the job or otherwise failing to oversee calls properly, the official-initiated review system seems superior to the coaches challenge, and lest we forget, is a huge improvement over what we had before.

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