At one point in the second quarter of the Yale football team’s win over Columbia last Saturday, referees had Yale’s kickoff unit frustrated after Columbia’s kick returner, who lost control of the ball and allowed three Yale players to jump on it, was ruled down before the fumble.
The call did not impact Yale’s 25–7 victory, but it was reminiscent of one that was meaningful at the same stadium two years before. In the 2012 season, a controversial fumble by running back Tyler Varga ’15 in the fourth quarter allowed the Lions to score on their final possession and ultimately win 26–22.
Ivy League football does not currently have any form of instant replay, which is used at the professional and college level to check the validity of calls such as fumbles, catches and sideline plays. But Yale and Ivy League administrators interviewed say that bringing replay to the conference is likely in the long term. Introducing instant replay is a move that at least eight of the 13 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision conferences have experimented with since 2013, but Ivy implementation is dependent on cost factors.
“Our coaches have talked about it,” Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said. “All of us would love to have something that allows you to get as many calls as possible correct … We have to see the costs come down or have a big need for it, which right now doesn’t exist.”
The addition of instant replay has strong support from coaches in the Ivy League, Yale football head coach Tony Reno said.
Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said instant replay will likely be a topic of discussion during the annual spring meeting of Ivy League athletic directors in May. The discussion would depend on whether or not coaches in the conference push it as a legislative item.
“What [replay] does is it dissolves any doubt,” Reno said. “It’s really hard for an official to see when did the ball come out, when was he down. With replay, it really makes their job easier, and for us, you know that the right call is always going to be made.”
Beckett agreed, saying that he would fully support an instant replay proposal if it were feasible and reasonably priced.
Harris also expressed a desire to implement a replay system, but she said that the costs currently outweigh the benefits of replay, especially when referees are usually correct, and even replay is limited by the type of play that can be reviewed and the camera angle available.
“Fortunately, we have had no game-determining calls [this year] that, had we had replay, would have been changed,” Harris said.
She added, however, that the review process the Ivy League does after each game has shown that some calls would get overturned if reviewed.
Both Harris and Jim Maconaghy, coordinator of football officials for the Ivy League, Patriot League and Colonial Athletic Association, noted that the size and age of Ivy League football stadiums, particularly the Yale Bowl, significantly affect the cost of necessary infrastructure changes.
To implement an instant replay system, each Ivy League school would need additional equipment, which many conferences obtain through the software company DVSport.
The schools would also need to modify their stadium with fiber optics cables and a room in the press box for officials to watch replays.
In NCAA football instant replay, at least one referee watches the game from the press box room and can view a replay or stop the game for an official review at any time, Maconaghy said.
Harris said that this setup is different and more costly than that of a television network such as NBCSN or FOX College Sports, which are combining to televise 13 Ivy League football games this season.
“[Television networks] have what’s called replay for entertainment purposes, where they can replay a play on television,” Harris said. “That is different than replay for officiating, where it has to go up to a booth where there are actual officials.”
The presence of a television network does, however, make official instant replay more feasible because of the number of cameras used in a broadcast. Other FCS conferences, such as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Big South Conference, began their usage of instant replay primarily during televised games.
Though the costs of instant replay in the Ancient Eight may not be known exactly until further consideration by the league, Yale did have a unique chance to see those costs firsthand early this season.
Army brought instant replay capability to the Yale Bowl during the historic Yale-Army matchup on Sept. 27. West Point hired a company to bring in the proper equipment, Harris said.
Beckett said that he heard the total cost of using replay in that game was approximately $7,000, but neither he nor associate athletics director sports publicity Steve Conn knew how that figure would compare to a sustained replay setup at Yale.
The officials stopped the game twice to review a call, but neither one was changed.
Although the 2014 season was the first in which an FCS conference — the Southland Conference — began using instant replay for all games, the Ivy League is already behind most conferences by not using the technology at all.
Maconaghy said that newer stadiums in the CAA, which shares referees with the Ivy League and the Patriot League, have facilitated the recent implementation of a pilot program for instant replay.
Each of the 12 teams in the CAA is playing one home game with full instant replay this season, in order to evaluate the feasibility of replay in all stadiums.
The Patriot League, whose teams comprise a significant portion of Ivy non-conference games, is using replay solely to review targeting penalties at halftime, taking advantage of a new FCS rule.
If a player gets called for an illegal targeting hit in the first half of a televised Patriot League game, a replay review at halftime can now overturn what would be an ejection in the second half of the game.
No such policy exists in the Ivy League, leading Maconaghy to believe that if the Patriot and Ivy Leagues do not launch a full replay system together, the Patriot League may do it sooner than the Ivy League.
“Only because [the Patriot League has] talked about it a little more,” Maconaghy said. “They’ve investigated the cost and things like that.”
The Ivy League recently brought replay to men and women’s basketball last year as part of enhancements to the Ivy League Digital Network, an on-demand video broadcasting service for Ivy League games.
Unlike in the case of football, however, most of the equipment required for replay was already used for the ILDN, and schools just needed to purchase one more piece of equipment, Harris said.
The referee views a replay on a courtside monitor rather than from a designated room, according to assistant director of sports publicity Tim Bennett. He estimated that replay was used once per game last season
Instant replay first came to the NCAA when the Big Ten Conference of the Football Bowl Subdivision used it in 2004.