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Replay Should Stay

Vic Carucci argues that instant replay, due for a vote at this week’s NFL meetings, has improved the game, despite some fixable flaws


A key touchdown by WR Joe Jurevicius against Green Bay in 2002 would not have stood without instant replay

(by Vic Carucci, National Editor,

It has graduated well beyond the "experimental" stage. It is no longer something that needs to be considered every year or every few years, for that matter.

Instant replay should be a permanent part of NFL officiating.

Hopefully, enough owners in the league will agree when they put that very issue to a vote at the NFL's annual meetings that begin March 29 in Palm Beach, Fla.

Despite whatever opposition replay has drawn through the years, it continues to do justice to its primary purpose -- getting calls right. It is the extra set of unblinking, often perfectly focused, eyes that can infinitely provide views to support or refute what an official has only one chance to determine often in a split second.

Yet, it has been in place for the last five years as a quasi-temporary measure. Owners would only approve it on a year-to-year basis before granting it a three-year stay that expired after the 2003 season.

The initial reluctance was understandable as bugs were worked out, both in terms of technology and application. Now logic suggests that replay should, once and for all, take its rightful place with first downs, touchdowns, field goals, extra points and two-point conversations as a fundamental element of the NFL game.

The NFL's Competition Committee feels that way, which is why it is formally recommending to owners to make replay permanent.

"Hopefully, we'll be successful in that so that we don't have to come back and discuss this in the future," committee co-chairman and Atlanta Falcons president and general manager Rich McKay said.

Is it a perfect system? No. Are there ways to make it better? Absolutely.

One tweak the NFL is considering is giving coaches who are successful on both of their replay challenges a third challenge. "We think that it gives the teams a little more flexibility to use the challenges when they see fit, but it still requires that they use them on big plays because there is only a total of three," McKay said.

Replay opponents have cited concern that pausing to review plays makes games too long and, therefore, less enjoyable for fans. However, as McKay pointed out, games on average were more than 90 seconds shorter in 2003 than they were in 2002, mainly because TV broadcast networks began taking commercial breaks during replay reviews. That helped cut down on TV timeouts.

But the time has come to stop giving replay so much of a work-in-progress status that it is treated as something the league could easily dismiss as being superfluous.

The stakes in each regular-season game, let alone the playoffs, have simply become far too great for the NFL to ever consider going back to relying solely on human eyes to determine whether or not the correct call has been made. Technology has become far too sophisticated to ever cast aside enlisting network-TV cameras to help assure that the best of all sports leagues functions at the highest level possible.

It makes no sense whatsoever to have fans that could be thousands of miles from a stadium knowing a particular call should or should not have been made without the actual participants in the game having the ability to fix it if necessary.

Additionally, the tenuous approach to replay creates a sense that at some point it could go away, thus potentially making it easier for less of a commitment from officials, coaches and others connected with the game to make it work.

At one point last season, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick used part of an angry postgame tirade to suggest the whole system be junked. He is not the only coach to harbor such feelings. Each year, complaints about officiating and/or replay can be heard from a variety of voices at all levels. Some are justified. Mike Pereira, the league's supervisor of officiating, studies videotape of calls made each week and tells the world when his crews get them wrong and when they get them right. More times than not, they make the right call.

Will we ever reach a point where replay will eliminate complaints, legitimate or otherwise, about officiating? Probably not. Ultimately, humans make officiating decisions, including those that involve the consultation of a video monitor, and (here's a bulletin) humans make mistakes.

Still, with replay a permanent part of the NFL, the league will always have a built-in mechanism to help keep those mistakes to a minimum.

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