Replay Q&A Part 2: What’s wrong with the system and how to fix it

In part two of the Q&A with CFL vice president of football Glen Johnson, he discusses the state of replay, the human element involved in making calls and what comes next. For part one, which reviewed the blown replay call from last Friday, please click here.

Drew Edwards: In a general sense, how do feel the expanded replay has gone this season?

Glen Johnson: I think it’s gone well in some areas and not necessarily as well as we’d hoped in others. In terms of the positive, it’s helped us identify some roughing the passers that are incredibly hard to see from the referee position. It’s helped us on some big plays that we’ve been able to fix but wouldn’t have been able to in the past. The obvious area where it’s been a bit of an issue is around illegal contact when it’s away from the ball or appears to be away from the ball. And now that coaches have more things to challenge, they are challenging more things so the number of challenges is more than we expected. We’re up more than double from last year and I think that surprises all of us on the rules committee.

We made a change in week 10 that put a time out at risk for every challenge and it’s trending down since then but it’s still not where we want it to be. We’re going to sit down when the season is over and look long and hard at it. When you innovate, not everything plays out the way you drew it up.

The other side of it is that a lot changes the rules committee has made over the last couple of years have been positive: scoring is up, two-and-outs are down, big play kick returns are up 40 per cent. That’s helped the game.

Drew Edwards: One of the things that I hadn’t considered until this year is that there’s a human element to replay. There is a person making decisions in the command centre and in certain cases those are judgment calls. And occasionally they are going to make mistakes because they are human.

Glen Johnson: That’s very true. The other thing I would say is that people believe that replay will be perfect and it’s not. It’s making it a lot better but at the end of the day, it’s still a human watching video and if you sat three or four guys down, they wouldn’t agree 100 per cent on every play. What we try and do is use process to make it as black and white as possible but there’s no doubt that there’s still a judgment element to it. There’s no doubt.

Drew Edwards: When I look at pass interference or illegal contact, there’s definitely a judgment element to it and fans are going to have to learn to live with that.

Glen Johnson: Exactly. When the standard says that the contact has to materially impede the player’s ability to play the ball, you’re definition of “materially impede” and my definition of “material impede” are probably going to be a little bit different. We try and coach everybody up to the same standard but there is going to be some variability.

Drew Edwards: The question becomes whether you prefer to have someone in a replay booth with several angles to look at and some time to make that decision or whether you’d rather leave it in the hands of an official on the field who has limited time and one chance to get it right.

Glen Johnson: Those are the options. I think if we can consistently get replay to a spot where it doesn’t take too long and it’s consistent, I think people will see the true benefits of it. We’ve had some long reviews but the last six weeks have been much better: we’ve averaged about 75 seconds, which is down from 106 second this time last year. That’s 31 seconds faster and yet I’m not sure people would believe that.

Drew Edwards: It seems to me that the time required for replay and the accuracy of it are in conflict. If you tell replay officials ‘hurry up but make sure you get it right’… that’s a lot.

Glen Johnson: It is. I think the way forward may be to say if it’s a certain type of challenge, we should have a standard. Like if it’s a catch or no catch, those shouldn’t take as long as pass interference or whether a player is down on a turnover. Those are critical plays and it should be OK if they take longer.

But there are a lot of competing forces: time, accuracy, judgment by a human. It’s not as perfect a science as people might want it to be.

Drew Edwards: Including you.

Glen Johnson: Absolutely. I live and wear every one of these that we don’t get right. I go back to ‘how can we better, how can I train these guys better?’ It’s hard and we take it very seriously. Every one of the mistakes, we learn from.

In general, we are trending better on all the metrics it’s just that these misses are things people tend to remember.

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