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The call on the field stands ...

.. about two out of three times. And play is stopped for a booth review just over once per game. That's a quick summary of the data from the first year of instant replay in college football.

That looks like a favorable return to me, and opinion among the people that count suggests that the experiment will continue.

Although correcting obvious and potentially significant errors is important, I think the greatest benefit comes from the direct monitoring of referee performance that replay provides. This observation from David Parry, the NCAA's coordinator of officials, is right on the mark:

"I think it has made the officials do a better job. They concentrate a little more. I know some have said their goal is not to have a replay today, and if we do, then let's have the call upheld."

It's more than just concentration though - surely the officials are better prepared as well. Wednesday's Alamo Bowl Game between Michigan and Nebraska provides an example. The television announcers, reporters, and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr have heaped criticism upon the referees for a poor performance. The widespread view is that the officials from the Sun Belt Conference were unaccustomed to the speed, athleticism, and pressure in a game between two powerhouse teams.

I don't think that had much, if anything to do with it. Obviously, the best officials, by and large, work in the best conferences. And instant replay has made the officiating in most conferences better than ever. But the Sun Belt (along with the WAC) has not yet adopted instant replay, and their officials have thus not yet adapted to the new system of incentives. The gap in competence between the Sun Belt officials and their major conference brethren has widened due to instant replay, and was exposed by the events in Wednesday's game.


Caption: Clemson fans stand with their hands in the air during a booth review after a spectacular touchdown catch by Aaron Kelly against Florida State. Few believed it was a catch before viewing the replay on the scoreboard monitor, when the hands went up and stayed there. Ultimately even the referees agreed.