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SEC to study use of replays in football
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<a href='http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/football/article/0,1426,MCA_478_3361577,00.html' target='_blank'>http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/footba...3361577,00.html</a>

SEC to study use of replays in football
November 29, 2004

In a season in which it seems like Bobby Gaston has gotten more than the usual amount of blame, give the man in charge of the Southeastern Conference's football officiating credit for this much: He still wants to get every call right.

To that end, Gaston and one of the SEC's technical advisors, Dr. Rogers Redding, traveled to Big Ten country to get a first-hand look at how that conference is doing with it's one-year experiment in Instant Replay. Both men came away impressed enough to make a recommendation to the conference to adopt similar capabilities for the SEC in time for the 2005 season.

"I saw what they are doing, and I liked it," Gaston said. "There are some things we'd tweak, and do a little differently. But what they do has a lot of merit.

"Primarily, they are interested in overturning the obvious, big-time play that can affect the outcome of the game - whether that's a reception or incomplete pass, a fumble before or after the player hit the ground, things of that nature. That's what they do and that does have merit."

Every year, in every conference, it seems the criticism of college football officiating grows louder. This year there were several very obvious blown calls, from the clock-management problems at the Tennessee-Florida game (which was really the more serious error than the personal foul call that preceded the time error), to the 'no call' in the end zone of the LSU-Alabama game. Neither of those calls would be have been considered reviewable under even NFL instant replay rules.

"It needs to be pointed out that a lot of things can't be reviewed," Gaston said. "Things like holding, off-sides, pass interference, personal fouls, false starts - those can't be (reviewed). Things that can be (reviewed) are primarily plays on the goal line, the sideline, whether or not a pass is complete or incomplete, whether the runner is down by contact, things that have a big impact on a particular play.

"Obviously, we're not going to get them all right. I wish we would. But I do think this (instant replay) has a chance to improve our 'hit' record."

The biggest objection will be from the schools who might have to figure out a way to pay for cameras at every game. The reason instant replay was workable in the Big Ten is because ESPN has a contract to televise every Big Ten conference game, whether on regular cable or on the subscriber "ESPN GamePlan" broadcast.

"We don't have that," Gaston said. "We'd have to associate ourselves with someone or something like that, because it's too expensive to furnish cameras and experienced people to operate those cameras and the truck required to filter all that information. If we're going to get that in place for 2005, I have to hit the ground running and work out the mechanics of making it happen.

"I'm certainly in hopes that as my career winds down, that we can get this started."

In the Big Ten, coaches are not allowed to challenge calls they think might be wrong. Instead, a replay official in a press box-level booth will stop the play if he thinks an incorrect call has been made. The replay official contacts the game officials that the play is under review, and then uses a TiVo-type video recorder to replay the broadcast from as many angles as TV can provide in order to make a decision based on "indisputable video evidence."

The last report I've seen said that the Big Ten had used the replay 43 times in 53 games, and overturned calls on 21 occasions. While that nearly 50-percent rate of being overturned doesn't seem to speak well to the quality of Big Ten officiating, the bigger issue is that the league is making the effort to make the calls right.

"I talked to some of the top referees in the Big Ten, asking them how they have accepted the idea," Gaston said. "They said when it started, many of them were opposed to the idea. But the further they got into the season, they've come to see the advantages of it. One referee told me that if there is a controversial call that is reviewable, there is almost a hush that comes over the stadium because people at least know it's being reviewed and there will be some sort of an answer. Rather than having fans just sit there thinking the call has been missed, they know there is a review process, and that has seem to have a calming influence on the field."

That the SEC has openly admitted to missing calls this season is a change in policy from the past. Former commissioner Roy Kramer felt that such disputes should be kept in-house, dealt with internally, while current commissioner Mike Slive has taken the approach that if there has been a mistake, admit it. Not all officials like that, but Gaston said Slive feels it aids in accountability and improving of officiating.

One other issue that has come up this year is Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom's assertion, among other things, that SEC teams not in contention don't get the same quality of officiating crews as the teams who are competing for championships. Gaston disagrees.

"We start the year with eight crews that are balanced, to the best of my ability, to be as near equal as possible," he said. "No crew works for any institution more than twice in a season. And we don't assign crews by the perceived value of the game. Each crew gets a representative schedule of the entire conference, so hopefully there is no merit to that statement a all. The crew that does the Alabama-Tennessee game might have the Vanderbilt-Mississippi State game the next week."

As for Gaston's future, next season will be his 50th associated with the SEC, either as an on-field official or supervisor of officials. The 80-year-old Atlanta native would like to get that 50th season.

"That decision is in the commissioner's hands," Gaston said. "I'm hopeful that we can have a very smooth transition with my replacement, to do it without a lot of fanfare It's true that 50 years is a long time. Having given it all I have, I have my rewards and my disappointments. But overall, it's been a pretty good thing."

(Contact Ray Melick of the Birmingham Post-Herald in Alabama at <a href='http://www.postherald.com.)' target='_blank'>http://www.postherald.com.)</a>
11-29-2004 07:57 PM
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