AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- The ACC has become the first conference to announce plans to use a replay command center in the 2016 football season, announcing Thursday it would have the system installed at all league venues and Notre Dame.
In February, the NCAA football rules committee said conferences would be allowed to use what is called the collaborative replay model on an experimental basis. The ACC has decided to go all in. A group of replay officials will work from the league office in Greensboro, North Carolina, to assist all ACC replay officials working games each weekend. That also goes for any Notre Dame game that features ACC replay officials.
In addition, the ACC will pair on-field crews with replay crews to work together moving forward.
Several months ago, the league hired longtime official Ted Jackson to oversee all its replay officials. Jackson will be in the ACC command center each weekend and serve as the point person with the on-site replay officials.
"I felt like we needed to be aggressive in being a part of this experimentation," commissioner John Swofford said. "I'm sure we'll learn a lot from it but we want to do everything that we can do to enhance officiating."
College football officiating has come under increasing scrutiny, as several botched calls over the past few years have affected the outcome of games. One of the most prominent examples was the end of a Miami-Duke game last season, in which the Hurricanes won on a touchdown that featured eight laterals. The ACC later ruled the officials botched four separate calls on that play and the touchdown shouldn't have counted. The on-field officiating crew as well as the replay official and communicator were suspended for two games as a result.
That incident was the impetus to hire a coordinator over the replay officials. Once the rules committee allowed collaborative replay, the ACC decided it needed to give it a shot.
Michael Strickland, senior associate commissioner for football operations, said many of the details still had to be hammered out but the league would make a "significant" investment in the technology required to ensure the proper equipment is installed at each venue. He said the ACC tested out collaborative replay during the Clemson spring game. Essentially, when a call was flagged for review, the on-field official, replay official and Jackson got on a headset and reviewed the play from every angle. They then made a joint decision.
"We walked away very impressed with the quality of the image," Strickland said. "It was as good a quality as you could ask for. It was real time. We were blown away by how good the technology performed in that instance, so that gave us the comfort to make the recommendation that we did."
The NFL uses a centralized replay system that functions in a similar matter, in which officials in New York communicate with on-site officials on reviews. Strickland said Jackson and ACC coordinator of officials Dennis Hennigan spent time at the NFL office and visited with NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino to study how they operate. They presented their findings to coaches and administrators during the ACC spring meetings and found coaches were also heavily in favor of adopting the system.
"The NFL model is working, and you've got better equipment, you've got more experience, more eyes; I don't think it's going to be a drastic change," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "But if it gets one thing right, I think that's critically important."
The SEC has also had discussions about using collaborative replay in 2016 but hasn't announced its official plans yet.