Taking A Closer Look

Many of the nation's top conferences make the call to go to instant replay.

College Football '05

The Nation

September 01, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Joe Paterno's legacy will be measured by the number of games and national championships his teams won, by the players whose lives he influenced and by the library his donation built on the Penn State campus.

It might now also include another contribution the legendary coach helped bring to college football: instant replay.

Some of Paterno's tirades toward officials in recent years were part of the reason the Big Ten Conference instituted an instant replay system last season. This year, eight other conferences will follow the Big Ten's lead.

Still called "experimental" by the NCAA - at least until next year, when a more permanent status is voted upon - instant replay could have a major impact on this season's national championship race.

Or, perhaps, it could do nothing but add a few minutes onto the games in which it is used.

"It depends on if there's one play that's out there that could change the course of a national championship," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "Some teams might win a game, and some teams might lose a game because of it."

Said Texas-El Paso athletic director Bob Stull, a former football coach: "If I'm an official, the last thing that I want to have happen is for me to make a decision that's a bad decision that ultimately decides a game."

Coker and Stull know intimately how controversial plays can alter the course of a national championship.

In January 2003, the Hurricanes were on the brink of their second straight title when a pass interference call in the end zone gave Ohio State new life in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes scored, winning both the game and the national championship.

Under the current system, that call against Miami would stand since it falls in a group of non-reviewable calls that includes holding and roughing the passer. But others that have changed the outcomes of games and seasons, and affected a couple of national championships, could have been being reversed.

In 1990, Colorado benefited from a now-infamous "fifth" down against Missouri when the sideline crew failed to change the down marker after the Buffaloes' quarterback spiked the ball on first down. Four plays later, Colorado scored.

The final play that resulted in the winning touchdown also could have been reversed, since replays later showed that the player's head, not the ball, had broken the plane of the goal line. Had the touchdown been called back, the Buffaloes wouldn't have gone on to win a share of the national championship.

"In that situation, if there was that much confusion, they would have tried to utilize [instant replay]," said Stull, who was Missouri's coach at the time. "We could have really used it there."

Seven years later, in the same end zone at Missouri's Faurot Field, Nebraska was able to force overtime when a pass, broken up near the end zone, was inadvertently kicked by a Cornhuskers player into the arms of another as he dived in the end zone. Nebraska won the game, remained unbeaten and went on to win a share of the national championship.

While those plays are more dramatic than the typical plays that likely will be reviewed by the replay official, last year's decision by the Big Ten and this year's widespread use of instant replay will at least quell some of the criticism that has been directed at game officials in recent seasons.

Coaches seem to be pleased

"I think it's going to allow us to be more accurate, as to who really won the ballgame," said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

"How many games have we seen that were lost on this play right here and after the next Monday, we see the replays and we say that was wrong. Now we're going to have a chance to correct that part. I think it will make people more satisfied."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who during his years at Florida was known to burn up the telephone lines between Gainesville and the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday mornings, seems satisfied already.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Spurrier said recently. "It keeps the coaches' hands out of it and lets those guys [in the replay booth] handle it."

Asked how he felt about the use of instant replay, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen summed up of the feelings of his ACC brethren. "Ecstatic," Friedgen said.

Not every league is jumping on the instant replay bandwagon. The Western Athletic Conference chose not to use it, and the Sun Belt will use it merely as a means to correct statistics. The Pacific-10, after some hesitation, decided to follow the Big Ten's formula.

Why isn't the WAC using instant replay?

The athletic directors voted against it because a high percentage of the games are not televised and a number of stadiums are not equipped with enough monitors to provide multiple television angles on each play. The WAC will try a mock system at selected games, similar to what the Big Ten used in 2003, and will take another vote next year.

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