Other conferences watching one-year test

Updated: August 4, 2004, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The Big Ten will be the focus of college football's attention this season as much for what happens above the field as on it.

The Big Ten will use instant replay this fall, the first conference in the country to do so. If the one-year experiment goes well, other conferences are expected to adopt it.

"Other conferences around the country are watching us and watching us carefully," David Parry, the Big Ten's coordinator of officials, said Wednesday. "My guess is they want this to be successful because if it is, they will go to the [NCAA] and say, 'Can we have this as an option for other conferences?' "

Under the Big Ten's system, a technical adviser will watch the game from the press box. If he sees something questionable, officials on the field will be notified via pager and play will be halted while the adviser reviews the call. The call for review must be made before the next play begins, or the opportunity passes.

The only video the adviser can use in his decision is that from the television feed. He'll also have a digital video recorder -- think TiVo -- to review the play. In the few cases where a Big Ten game isn't televised -- 90 percent are -- the conference will do its own video production for the adviser to use.

The call on the field can be overturned only if there is "indisputable video evidence."

In the 68 Big Ten games televised last year, there were 42 replay opportunities and 23 calls would have been reversed. Based on that, Parry estimated that one game out of three would feature replay.

"It's not a perfect world. It won't be a perfect system," Parry said. "We just hope it will be better."

Unlike the NFL's instant replay system, only the technical advisers -- all former officials who Parry said have an average of 15 years' experience -- can call for a review. Coaches didn't object to that, saying it will limit the interruptions to the game.

"We don't want to change the tempo," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "I don't want one of my assistants upstairs telling me to challenge. Let's just do it."

Only certain calls can be reviewed, too. Scoring plays, pass plays and number of players on the field are all among the things eligible for review. Judgment calls like hard, physical fouls, illegal blocks and false starts are not.

"This is no panacea for correcting everything that goes wrong in a game," said Mark Rudner, associate commissioner of the Big Ten. "We know there are going to be plays that get by, calls that get through. ... [But] we hope that we'll be successful in correcting a lot of the calls that have been missed."

Nonconference opponents are being given the option of playing with instant replay. Rudner declined to say how many of those games will feature it because he hasn't received all of the responses, but said other conferences are keenly interested in the experiment.

"I had meetings in June with my counterparts in other conferences, and we spent a good deal of time talking about this replay system, knowing perhaps they might be in my position next year," Rudner said.

Instant replay has been talked about for years in college football. But the issue became a focal point in the Big Ten in 2002, when several games had high-profile, controversial calls. Paterno was so angered by two late calls in a loss to Iowa that the coach, then 75, sprinted down the sideline and grabbed an official by the jersey to complain.

Penn State later asked for a comprehensive review of the league's officiating program.

After meeting with coaches and athletic directors the following spring, the Big Ten decided to create a pilot program for instant replay. After testing it last season, the conference asked the NCAA for permission to use it on an experimental basis this year.

The NCAA championships and competition cabinet gave its approval in February, and the news was welcomed by all of the Big Ten coaches, who had given the proposal unanimous support.

"I think it's going to help," Paterno said. "I think all of us want the game to be determined by the kids."

Added Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, "I commend the league for taking the lead. With as much is at stake in every game, I believe it's a measure that will help college football."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press