To err, is human. To attempt to revise error and make a worse one, well, that must be really human, since it happens all the time. Home improvement projects. Middle Eastern geopolitics. Attempting to fix the code on your ten-dollar website. Fixing Mickey Rourke's decade of bad plastic surgery. Examples abound of people being just garden variety incompetent but then soaring into the stratosphere of Olympian ineptitude by trying to correct the initial fuckup.
Mickey should have left a mistake alone.
We think this is exactly what will happen with instant replay in the NCAA in the 2005 season.
Conferences are leaping onto the experimental bandwagon for instant replay, trying it on for this season and seeing how it fits before implementing it as a perennial feature of the game. The idea is a direct import from the NFL, where fans have grown accustomed to the zebras bringing the game to a standstill and putting their heads underneath the hood for a few minutes to watch old "Saved by the Bell" clips while they wonder what in the hell they're going to say about the call they just blew in front of millions. (Sometimes I just giggle when Phil Luckett, the infamous "heads" coin toss ref, has his head under the hood. Like he's under there repeating to himself, "happy place, happy place, happy place," or hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.)
Ed Hochuli, riveted by the episode where Jesse Spano gets hooked on speed.
The review process in college will, for now, involve a booth review only . There's little reason to think the hood and the coaches' challenge would follow, either, since college football as an institution does plenty of things differently than the pros.(In fact, rumblings have been made in the NFL about abandoning the gutless coin toss overtime in favor of the nail-biting Kansas City tiebreaker. Which would suit Phil Luckett just fine, too.) But changing the replay system will diminish something in the game most fans don't want to consider but should: injustice breeds rivalry.
History is what makes rivalry so bitter in college football. It's what charges a game with the kind of gravity normally associated with Balkan blood feuds and Wagnerian opera. When Missouri beat Nebraska two years ago-the game where Kellen Huston wins the informal overtime 1-0 by dropping a frenzied Tigers fan to the turf with one punch-was that much sweeter for the Tigers because they were screwed on the "flea-kicker" play in 1997, allowing Nebraska to share the national championship and spoiling Mizzou's first real chance to beat the Huskers since 1978. Under replay, the play wouldn't have happened, which wouldn't end the world, but makes things less...dramatic.
Shevin Wiggins kicks Nebraska into a national championship.
Take another example: Florida-UT, Sept. 16, 2000. Jesse Palmer throws a quick hitch to Jabar Gaffney in the endzone with fourteen seconds left to win the game. UT fans object on the basis of Gaffney fumbling the ball in his hands before letting it dribble to the turf in an apparent incompletion, with every angle of replay backing up the ruling of incompletion. Game over, and the corn stills of East Tennessee worked overtime for the next month to keep up with demand.
UT gets this back in 2004 in grand fashion, of course, getting a key unsportsmanlike conduct play on a Dallas Baker retaliation to a UT head slap and a couple of other phantom calls on the way to kicking the winning field goal, thus striking the opening notes in the "Ron Zook Funeral March." Which brings us back to our point: Zook would have beat UT if not for bad officiating, which means he would have kept his job, which means Urban Meyer might be at Notre Dame now, Charlie Weis would be coaching...well, somewhere, and things would be very different for all concerned, especially you cantankerous Gator fans now wanting to know what Urban eats for lunch, if he needs any help around the yard, and admiring his shapely calves.
If not for bad officiating, Gator fans, Meyer would have pointed himself somewhere else.
Is this post facto reasoning? Our thoughtful answer is this: hell yes. But what isn't? Frankly, we don't see much consistency in the argument that an amateur sport should have professional grade referees, or even professional aspirations. And this is assuming the replay guys get it right, which isn't always the case, since some plays-often the most controversial-are right on the defined line between catch and drop, score and fourth-and-goal stop. Even with a five minute delay in the game, much teeth-gnashing in the booth, and endless video replay, it could and will likely still come down to subjective judgement calls.
Our greater point is this: we love the college game for the combustible, blood feud air Saturdays have when two rivals play. We love the eccentricities. We love the error, the individual character of each fanbase, the sometimes laughable mascots. Taking one factor of the drama out of the equation doesn't ruin it-there's way too many ingredients for that to happen-but it does diminish the state of the game at the margins. And as our econ book in college said-we remember something, see?-rational people think out there at the margins, and we hear they make a nice living.