September 29, 2016 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Between the Lines: Do we need replay in high school sports?

Kevin Hoffman

There’s a trickle-down effect in sports. Rules and procedures put in place at the professional or collegiate levels tend to make their way to the high school and youth leagues. That’s great for issues like targeting in football, but not so much for instant replay challenges.

Most major professional sports now use replay in some capacity to review rulings by officials. I didn’t anticipate that practice would ever reach the prep level, but it appears that time is near.

In June, Alabama began experimenting with replay challenges in high school football, testing them out during a pair of spring exhibition games. The state athletic association partnered with Hudl to capture game footage, and coaches were encouraged to throw challenge flags, giving officials an opportunity to test the system. The state planned to analyze the results this summer.

At its core, instant replay is a blessing. Referees are not perfect and calls are missed, many in critical situations. Allowing them to correct their mistakes spares them additional scrutiny while making sure teams are fairly punished or rewarded.

That viewpoint is valid in high school sports, but replay could be a logistical nightmare. Professional sports have adequate resources and funding, but we can’t say the same for high schools, many of which struggle in the current economy to keep their programs up and running.


Before adding replay to prep sports, states have to consider several obstacles. The referees stand to benefit the most from a replay system, but states like Michigan and Missouri are struggling to find qualified candidates to fill the shoes of retiring officials. Replay responsibilities increase the learning curve, and new referees must be trained to operate the system. With a high rate of turnover, training would need to take place regularly.

» MORE: Poll: Do high school sports need instant replay?

Then there’s the cost. It’s safe to assume that a reliable replay system requires qualified camera operators and additional staff to operate the software. Schools could find people within their programs, but it’s also possible they would have to hire help.

The software also comes with its own licensing costs. Programs that can’t afford it could be required to spend thousands each year to use it. That’s not a problem for the state’s largest programs, but school districts with low enrollment numbers don’t have the resources to operate or pay for such a luxury.

We haven’t even begun considering things like slowing down the game or technical difficulties. And when replay is implemented in football, basketball and baseball may not be far behind.

“I’m not a big fan of it at this point,” said Alabama high school coach Danny Smith following his spring game.

“When you look at the college level or pros, they may have 15 or 20 angles. They can zoom in and out. With just two cameras working with a wide and tight copy and the majority of the time you got high school kids videoing, it’s going to be tough to get the great angles like you do at the next level.”

The thought of replay is a great one, but the challenges are overwhelming. At the very least, states must offer answers to all of these issues before committing to such a drastic change.

Kevin Hoffman is the editorial director of Coach & Athletic Director. He can be reached at [email protected].

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