To Replay or Not to Replay

December 19, 2008 | Brian Billick

In light of the events that transpired last weekend in the game between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, it seems like a good time to get back on my soap box about instant replay and the adjustments that need to be made.

Lets begin with the call of whether the pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes to win the game was a good call or not. I thought the league and Walt Coleman, the official, did a good job of explaining the process he went through in determining the legitimacy of the play. They had to determine whether Holmes had both feet on the ground, with position of the ball. Clearly, this was the case.

Next, Coleman had to determine if the ball did indeed cross the plane. This is where it gets interesting. Having been through this scenario dozens of times in my nine years as a head coach I know full well what will transpire during the offseason with regards to this play. Beginning with the Competition Committee, then on to the League Meetings and the full contingent of coaches, general managers and owners, this play will be looked out countless times, in ultra-slow motion and freeze frame, to determine if the ball crossed the plane. After which, like today, 50% of those who saw it will believe it did cross the goal and the other 50% will not. Whether in slow motion or during live action a call of this nature is going to be subjective.

Having recognized the subjectivity of the call, what I take issue with is the fact that via the current replay system the official was put into a position, during a relatively short period of time, to determine what everyone in the NFL will still not be able to definitively say was a good or bad call. Instant replay was instituted with the specific mandate of eliminating the “egregious mistake”. How can a call be considered egregious, if during the calm of the offseason, with all the technology available today, we still can not definitively say what was or was not the right call.

Whatever the call on the field that was made — and in this instance it was ruled Holmes did not cross the plane of the goal line — the video replay was certainly not “irrefutable” evidence to the contrary. Therefore the call on the field should stand. I would say the same thing had the call been made the other way.

My contention all along has been that with the tools available to us today it seems that the need to have the officials leave the field of play and stick their heads into a “peep” show to determine the right call is unnecessary. The replay officials have the capacity to quickly communicate with the Referee any observations they have with regards to the “egregious” error that may have happened on the field, not unlike the college system. This would prove to be a minimal interruption of the game and would give the Referee another source with which to get the call right.

A case in point: When a play is made along the side, by way of a pass reception, and a debate insures between say a Back judge and Line judge who are involved in the call, the Referee will go to both individual and ask, “What did you see?”. The two factors involved, of course, are: did the player have possession and did he get his feet inbounds? If each saw it the same way then the call is easy. If there were a difference of opinion the referee would simply try to ascertain who had the best view. If you were at the same time able to gain a perspective from the replay booth and given that opinion the referee would have all the information possibly available to make the right call. Would this insure 100% accuracy on all call? Of course not…

Currently the calls on the field are upheld roughly between 75% & 80% of the time. And of that 20-to-25%, approximately 5-to-8% of the time it is overruled, the original call was deemed correct, all but after the fact. My contention is that at the very least these percentages will be maintained and there would be virtually no interruption to the natural flow of the game.

At its best, the flow of information given to the Referee will be in a manner that might indeed enhance the chances of the calls on the field being corrected at a more efficient rate.

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