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Instant replay adds a new element to game

Significant news came out of Montgomery last week.

On April 12, the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced that it will implement instant replay reviews at high school football games beginning in the 2018 season.

Alabama is the first state to introduce the technology on a wide scale at the high school level.

I was surprised by this unprecedented announcement. Local football coaches were, too.

In the aftermath of the revelation, I spoke with Beulah head coach Cody Flournoy, Lanett head coach Clifford Story and Valley head coach Buster Daniel. All said that the news came as a bit of a shock.

Bringing instant replay to the high school game has long been discussed in coaching circles. But few actually believed it would be available to utilize this quickly.

Nevertheless, the coaches I spoke to voiced general support for the innovation. They think it has the potential to benefit the sport.

I agree.

Though far from perfect, instant replay has proved effective at the college and professional levels.  It helps remedy human error and increases the overall accuracy of on-field rulings.

In almost every football game, referees draw scrutiny for at least one call. It can stem from a questionable fumble or a disputed catch of which they did not have an optimal viewing angle.

Instant replay will enable officials to make informed decisions on such plays, reducing the number of incorrect calls and ensuring that outcomes are not altered by faulty rulings.

Instant replay also will provide referees with an extra level of accountability. This should boost the overall quality of officiating.

But it will never be pristine, even with instant replay. For every sequence to which instant replay adds clarity, there will be one to which its adds confusion.

It is true in the pro and college ranks. It will be true in high school as well, most likely with greater frequency. The cameras used by most Alabama high school programs pale in comparison to those used by the NFL and NCAA.

If it’s hard to rule on a play in a Pittsburgh Steelers game filmed at 10 different angles, it will be exponentially more difficult to rule on a play filmed at only one or two angles.

More than one of the coaches I spoke to expressed concerns about the effectiveness of instant replay, given the availability and affordability of required technology. I also have reservations.

But I don’t think that instant replay will be rendered completely ineffective. I just think its scope will be initially limited. Over time, it will broaden as schools become equipped with better technology.

Patience will be paramount.

I am eager to see how many programs choose to integrate instant replay review into their Friday night rituals this coming season. Since implementation is voluntary, that number will vary based on location, enrollment and many other factors.

I also am eager to see how much time instant replay reviews add to game length. The AHSAA estimates it will extend contests by 10 to 20 minutes. But that too will vary.

Clearly, much remains unknown about the impact instant replay will have on high school football. Questions will continue to linger. That is OK.

Alabama, a state seldom on the vanguard of innovation, is entering uncharted territory.

I look forward to discovering what the future holds.

Sam Chandler is the sports editor at The Valley Times-News. He can be reached by phone at 334-644-8106 or by email at sam.chandler@valleytimes-news.com.