Pictured is Gadsden City’s Jamontez Woods running back a kickoff during the 2017 football season. None of the 10 varsity high school football teams in Etowah County will participate in the Alabama High School Athletic Associations’ experimental instant replay program for the 2018 season. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Instant replay is making its way to high school football games in Alabama this fall.
Just don’t expect to see any replay reviews at schools in Etowah County.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) is partnering with DVSport, Inc. to provide replay technology at high schools throughout the state – at a steep cost.
Schools who want to opt in for the replay system this fall will have to pay at least $3,000 and possibly over $5,000. The technology is in the experimental phase for now, so it isn’t mandatory for schools. With such an overwhelming cost up front, none of the 10 schools in Etowah County are opting in this year.
In fact, there are only about 20 schools in the state that are utilizing replay this fall. Mark Jones, the director of officiating for the AHSAA, said the primary concern for most schools is the cost, which could fluctuate depending on how many camera angles the school desires.
“It varies depending on how extensive the schools want the camera angles to be,” Jones said. “A two-camera shoot for sideline and end zone cameras is $3,500. You can have a four-camera shoot and go to the other end zone and sideline, and you can have a goal line camera.”
Before the cameras are installed, each school must pay for hardwiring, which could cost $500 or more. Although most teams use wireless technology to film games on the sidelines, the replay through DVSport must have a hardwired connection.
Almost all of the schools opting in for replay this fall are in Class 6A or 7A. Gadsden City, the only 7A school in Etowah County, will not have replay. Head football coach Bart Sessions said he will be taking a “wait and see approach” to see if the experiment is successful.
“The number one thing is just an added cost to fit into your budget,” Sessions said. “We’re not really sure if it will be longer than a one-year deal because it’s a pilot program. I have mixed feelings on it. The majority of high schools have high school students filming games. Our students do a great job, but is it going to be clear enough to make a correct call?”
The Titans likely will face other 7A schools that have replay. If the home team has replay, each coach is allowed two challenges per game. Sessions said he doesn’t believe it will impact any coaching strategy.
Southside, Etowah and Sardis are all Class 5A schools, but coaches from each school cited funding as the primary reason for not instituting replay.
“We can’t afford that,” said Southside coach Ron Daugherty. “We’re not going to do that right now. We might could find the money to do it, but it’s a hassle for me to get quality film for our games.”
Etowah coach Drew Noles said the cost is one factor, and he also said replays will lengthen games.
“Some of it is cost,” Noles said. “A big thing is part of the game is human error. Referees do the best they can. And for the most part, they get the calls right. Games alrea-dy last a really long time. Replays will only make games last longer. I’m not a fan of it in college, either.”
Sardis coach Gene Hill mentioned that most of the plays he would want reviewed will not be reviewable.
“I don’t think it’s worth the cost,” Hill said. “If we could replay everything, maybe. But we only have one camera angle. You can only replay the spot of the ball. Holding and pass interference aren’t reviewable. Ninety percent of the calls you want reviewed aren’t going to be reviewable.”
Penalties such as pass interference, holding, blocking in the back and grabbing the facemask can’t be reviewed. The spot of the ball can be reviewed, including whether the ball crossed the goal line if the school has goal line cameras in-stalled.
Jones said there are a few schools in smaller classifications that are implementing replay, but it’s almost exclusively larger schools that can afford it.
“One primary concern is the cost,” Jones said. “Another concern is that it’s an experimental rule. But we feel good about it becoming a rule.
“Technology, instant replay, it’s coming. And we want to be on the forefront and set the standard.”
As Daugherty mentioned, money isn’t the only concern for schools. Hokes Bluff coach Mike Robertson also said the issue of having the personnel necessary to film games from different camera angles is one of the “biggest obstacles.”
If a school can only afford one or two camera angles, it might be difficult for them to overturn a call on the field. Westbrook Christian coach Brian Mintz said a misconception about the replay system in high school is that it will be similar to what fans see in college football and the NFL.
“It’s not going to be like Saturday or Sunday with 15 an-gles,” Mintz said. “There’s only one angle. Unless it happens right in front of the press box, there probably won’t be a good enough angle to overturn a call.”
Glencoe coach Brian Alred and Coosa Christian coach Navendra Woods both cited funding as a major hurdle for replay. West End coach Kyle Davis said most rural programs don’t have $5,000 available for technology expenses.
“If we had $5,000, we’d buy a new set of uniforms,” Davis said. “Logistically, it just doesn’t make sense. We only have one person to film a game and only one angle.”
Several coaches, including Hill, Mintz and Gaston coach Swane Morris, said they use Hudl Sideline to record games on the sidelines. Replays are available on Hudl, but officials can’t use it because the AHSAA has a deal with DVSport.
“We use HUDL sideline to film the plays, and it would be better if we could use that technology instead of paying $3,500 to have one camera set up,” Morris said.
Hudl Sideline would be a cheaper option for small, rural schools that can’t afford thousands of dollar’s worth of equipment. However, Hudl uses a wireless connection, which isn’t always dependable for high school games.
DVSport has provided Instant Replay Solutions for college football games since 2005. Jones believes the technology will be a success because it gives officials an opportunity to correct a call and can prevent a bad call from ruining a game.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to correct an obvious error and you have the ability to do it, you should utilize it,” Jones said. “They’re tough calls. Officials make the best decision they can, but sometimes they miss a call. Instead of officials feeling badly about it all winter, they now have the opportunity to correct it. We want to set the standard for high school football throughout the country.”
Unless the cost decreases for next year, it’s unlikely high schools in Etowah County will have replay. The advantages of the replay system are clear, but for now, the system is designed only for schools that have the funding and personnel.
If the AHSAA can find a way to minimize the cost, the replay system would be very useful if utilized in the right way. Nevertheless, its impact will be limited for most high schools in the state and every school in Etowah County in 2018.