I don’t know it for sure, but I’m almost willing to bet that the GHSA will be watching Alabama high school football a little bit more closely in the 2018 season than in times past.
According to a report from al.com's Josh Bean, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) – Alabama’s governing body for high school athletics – stated that instant replay had been granted for the next three years for “experimental purposes.”
To that I say, kudos, AHSAA. Now let’s see how this move affects the thought process of your eastern next door neighbor.
While some may decry instant replay in high school football as just another sign of the game losing its innocence on the prep level, I for one feel like it’s necessary to at least have the conversation of whether or not it belongs.
As I think back on the past football season, I can pinpoint at least five games off the top of my head that I either covered or casually watched where the outcome could’ve definitely changed had instant replay been involved.
We’re talking games with region championship (Eastside at Woodward) and state championship (Peach County vs. Calhoun) implications.
Most of us know the drama that ensued after an official called what looked like a Peach County touchdown catch an incomplete pass. The call erased a 13-10 Peach County lead to preserve a 10-6 deficit.
Calhoun would go on to win the Class AAA title, and the instant replay debate kicked into high gear.
But a controversial play in the Eastside-Woodward Academy game was one that, unless you’re from Newton County, would’ve probably flown under your radar.
This was called a fumble effectively ending Eastside’s last drive. The Eagle’s fans, players, and coaches are furious. Was he down? 👀🤔 pic.twitter.com/1Mb8vBdVN5— 𝘾𝙊𝙑𝙉𝙀𝙒𝙎 𝙎𝙋𝙊𝙍𝙏𝙎 (@CovNewsSports) October 14, 2017
The game essentially ended when Eastside running back Taylor Carter was tackled at the end of what appeared to be a first-down run on a fourth down play deep in Woodward territory. The ball squirted out when Carter hit the ground and Woodward recovered. The referee hesitated, then called it a fumble.
Ball game. Woodward wins.
Our staff caught a very clear video of the play in question, and it looked like the ball came out of Carter’s grasp only after his arm hit the ground. And you know the rule – the ball can’t cause a fumble.
In this case, though, it did. And I’m convinced that this was a call that, if instant replay was in place, would’ve been overturned, giving Eastside the ability to keep marching toward a game-tying touchdown.
Just in those two instances alone, instant replay could’ve caused championships to change hands. And although the AHSAA beat our Georgia governing body to the punch, don’t think for a moment that instant replay isn’t on the GHSA’s radar. According to GHSA assistant executive director Ernie Yarbrough, to replay or not to replay has been on the radar longer than you think.
“To be honest, the matter of bringing instant replay into football here is not something that was just brought up in light of that Peach County game or any other this past season,” Yarbrough said. “I believe there were a couple of states where it’s already being done, and we’ve looked at those in the past.”
He’s right. New Jersey and Minnesota are among a small handful of states that have either used, or plan to use replay in championship games, according to the al.com report. And back in 2016, Alabama experimented with it in spring games.
Yarbrough also mentioned that the National Federation hasn’t mandated the use of instant replay, “because they realize the difficulties.”
Some of those difficulties and challenges were explained to me in detail by GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines.
Hines, who began his tenure at the helm of the GHSA in June 2017, said that while the idea of bringing instant replay into high school athletics – particularly football – sounds appealing, there are numerous variables to be taken into consideration.
“It’s things like when do you do it,” Hines said. “Is it regular season or playoffs only? Who pays for it? How many camera angles are needed to make it viable? How many replay chances do you get? What about length of games. We start getting involved in replay, games could last until midnight.”
The financial feasibility of it could definitely further divide what some Georgia coaches feel is an already segmented landscape of “haves-and have nots.” Meaning schools with more money would have fewer obstacles in their way of benefiting from instant replay’s inclusion, while schools with tight budgets and small or non-existent booster clubs could possibly go without.
In Alabama’s case, some of those things have been taken into consideration.
The AHSAA is partnering with DVsport which is a company that specializes in facilitating instant replay. According to the al.com article, DVsport will provide equipment to schools willing to purchase, although we don’t know the cost.
Also, replay won’t be mandated for all games, but larger schools in richer areas will be expected to purchase the equipment more so than others.
Yarbrough said looking to implement replay in state championship games held in replay-ready venues like Mercedes Benz Stadium could make more sense than trying to force feed it into every school and game. But even that, he points out, won’t stop some teams and coaches from feeling like they’ve been shafted by a bad call.
“Once you get to the playoffs, let’s face, it’s win or go home and the stakes are higher,” Yarbrough said. “The championship game is the pinnacle of what you’re playing for, sure, but if you only have instant replay for championship games, what about the team that gets eliminated in an earlier round by a call that could’ve gone another way with replay implemented? It’s not as easy a fix as people like to think it is.”
Probably not. But it would be nice to see the GHSA experiment with it, just like Alabama did in 2016. Spring football is coming up complete with spring scrimmages. Then the preseason scrimmages in the summer meant to prepare teams for the upcoming season. Why not take a select few of those games and test out the process in 2019? See what could and couldn’t work. What could easily be tweaked and what’s a no-deal proposition?
Ultimately, it may prove that instant replay is impractical for Georgia high school football. After all, every state’s landscape is different.
But at least making an attempt at it could serve as a healthy acknowledgement by the GHSA that it won’t just be standing around looking unconcerned and out of touch.
To be sure, some signs to counter that long-standing opinion of the GHSA have already surfaced under new leadership.
Take, for instance, the GHSA’s willingness to go back and overturn a game-deciding play in a Collins Hill-Discovery basketball game this year that was deemed an erroneous application of a rule – something Hines says is wholly different than dealing with a judgment call in the Peach County or Eastside situations.
But at least embracing even a dalliance with instant replay could be seen as the GHSA taking another step to get things right. That’s exactly what AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said in the al.com article when explaining why the Alabama governing body chose to implement replay.
“The purpose of instant replay is to aid the officials in getting it right,” Savarese said.
As far as officiating goes, Yarbrough says the number of officials in Georgia is growing sparse, but the quality of training they receive is among the best in the nation – which brings up another point of challenge for implementing replay.
“Griping about an official’s call is a part of sports,” Yarborough said. “And they’re humans. They’re going to make mistakes. But we have to remember too that these officials aren’t doing this as a full time job. When you add replay into the mix, you add another thing that you have to train these guys on. That’s not making excuses for any missed call. But it’s just the reality of things that many times people don’t consider when talking about replay.”
Ultimately, Hines said that despite the inherent difficulties of getting a good replay system that fits Georgia schools, he and the GHSA are certainly not opposed to taking at least an experimentation of it into further consideration.
“I’m all for looking at it,” Hines said. “It’s definitely something where I feel we can explore it and take a look at what that could mean for us. But at the same time, we don’t need to implement something we don’t know a lot about. So it needs to be thoroughly considered.”
Having someone right next door trying their hand with it in 2018 could give the GHSA that up-close-and-personal look it needs to determine if instant replay is right for Georgia.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.