A behind-the-scenes look at college football instant replay

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — If you’re a fan of SEC football, then you’ve probably seen dozens, if not hundreds, of official reviews over the last few years. They all originate in one room in the SEC office. 

It’s called the SEC Video Center, and CBS 42 got a behind the scenes look. The room features about 60 monitors where league officials can keep an eye on games each Saturday. Technicians watch games, mark plays, and alert replay officials to close calls. When a play gets reviewed, three replay officials collaborate with the in-stadium replay official to assist in making the decision. The process is designed to make thing easier for the official in the stadium.

“That’s a hot, lonely seat,” Steve Shaw, SEC coordinator of football officials, said. “And to have three collaborative partners in a calm, central site where they can look at it – without people looking in the window, without the fans, without anything really – is a calming effect. And it allows us to make better decisions.”

The SEC has used a collaborative replay process the last three seasons with a goal of making decisions as efficiently as possible. Shaw says officials want to get calls right without slowing down the game too much. He believes they’re getting better each year.

“We were right at (one minute, 15 seconds) on our average review this year, which was very, very good and down really about ten seconds from two years ago,” he said. “So we’ve been able to shorten them and actually have better results.”

It’s not always easy to making decisions, and that’s why the league uses the collaborative approach. But Shaw says reviews themselves aren’t the hardest part. It’s the decision whether or not to review a play that creates the biggest challenge.

“Where we kind of sweat bullets, if you will, is in that window of: ‘Do we stop this or not?’ And that’s the decision point that really gets intense throughout the day.”

That’s especially tough now with so many up-tempo offenses in college football. 

But the SEC won’t provide officials for the national championship game Monday night since the league has a team in the game. A Big Ten crew will officiate the game, and Shaw says their replay method is much different.

“They actually have a sideline monitor, so it’s almost like an iPad that’s on the sideline that the referee looks at,” he said. “So they are not, as of yet, using their video center. They’re using the sideline, the referee coming over and doing that. And that’s what you’ll see in the national championship game.”

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