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How to Fix Replay Review in College Football

It simply has to be done

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa
we ain’t come to see you ref
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

By all accounts, the Iowa Hawkeyes had an unusual day against North Texas. The officials took over the game, endlessly using replay review even for things that were not consequential. Referees have a tough job and a good rules package should be enforced, but every time the referees do anything, it slows down the game. The first half of the Fighting Illini loss to South Florida took at least two hours due in large part to 26 penalties. Games this sloppy are a chore to watch even if your team isn’t allowing 680 yards and generating no offense.

Thankfully, games that penalized are a rarity, but games with an inordinate amount of replay reviews have become commonplace. A replay review is a frustrating break in the action for those watching on TV; for those watching live, it’s a seemingly interminable state of purgatory while you wait for the decision, especially if you’re unable to see a replay screen. As replay reviews stack up, they conspire with penalties, incomplete passes and commercials to drive up the length of a game. The average game length is constantly increasing, and though it’s reasonable to demand the officials get every call right, I recall standing in Memorial Stadium during last year’s Homecoming game against Minnesota watching our injury-ravaged offense flail against the Gophers. A swing pass to the flat was dropped near the sideline and fell out of bounds, and a replay review ensued to determine if it was an incomplete pass bringing up 4th and 5 or a fumble bring up 4th and 5 and a few inches. If given the choice, would Illinois really challenge that?

To that end, I’ve devised a solution. With all the camera angles available now, surely a solution can be found. I would solve replay review once and for all by eliminating booth reviews entirely so that an instant replay review can only be initiated by a head coach’s challenge. Allow the coach to be informed by anyone able to do so; they must throw a red challenge flag onto the field before the next play is snapped. Anything from the previous play can be subject to review, from the spot of the ball to penalties to whether or not the chain gang only gave Illinois three downs for some reason. The coach shall have two challenge flags. If the outcome of the play is found to be different than originally called on the field, the challenge flag thrown is returned to the coach. If not, the coach loses that challenge.

What this amounts to is a system where replay reviews will only be made when a head coach deems it sufficiently important. Although getting the flag back when winning a challenge protects the coach against a situation where the refs can’t stop getting it egregiously wrong, it also gives great incentive to avoid challenging relatively trivial plays or those unlikely to be overturned because a coach who loses two challenges in a game may no longer challenge any call.

We all want the refs to get everything right, but I’m not willing to sit through a 7-3 game that takes 5 hours in order to get to that point.

Do you have a better system? Do you think things should change? Why or why not? Let me know in the comment section.