While instant replay reviews are common place at the FBS level, FCS conferences are still trying to implement reviews at their level. During the 2016 season, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Big South Conference both allowed teams and refs to review plays.
This season the number grows by one as the Ohio Valley Conference joins in on the mix. The officiating staff now includes instant replay officials who are assigned to crews along with communicators in the instant replay booth. Each school did have to install equipment in order to meet the qualifications, but now any controversial calls can be reviewed by OVC officials.
"It's been in the conversation for the past two to three years and it's utilization is relatively new except for the postseason," OVC Coordinator of Football Officiating Matt Young said during OVC Media Day on July 24. "We are taking our place at the table. We have 12 instant replay officials that travel with the crews and we will have the same ones together. We also hired seven regional officials. It's led to a lot of hard work for the schools."
Instant replay isn't entirely new to the OVC since some of the schools played road games at opponents who had the ability to review plays. Eastern Illinois played at Illinois State last season and replay was used a few times.
However, now the OVC schools have the ability to review plays during their own home games instead of just relying on it during certain road games.
EIU coach Kim Dameron said he is excited the conference now has the opportunity to instantly review certain plays.
"It's something that's a great tool that we will be able to use in every game, not just in the playoffs, not just against Missouri Valley teams and all of that," Dameron said. "It's obviously something, even in recruiting, nobody can say 'that league doesn't have instant replay.' It's something we are excited about. I just want it right."
Dameron echoed the sentiment of many players, coaches and fans around the country. They just want the call to be right and so do the officials in the OVC.
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Adding instant replay should help alleviate pressure off the officials, Young said.
"We hope it releases the pressure valves. If we have a play that can be fixed, we were talking about it on a Tuesday," Young said. "Now we are talking about it right after the play and then we can say we got it right. Replay is just as much a part of officiating."
Not every play can be reviewed. Young said scoring plays, catches, targeting and changes of possessions can be reviewed.
Two seasons ago against Illinois State, EIU lost a fumble late in the game where it appeared running back Devin Church was down, so EIU would've kept possession. Illinois State went on to win the game. EIU was on the wrong end of some close calls against Murray State last season in a loss.
Now those calls can be reversed, but Dameron said he doesn't think EIU has lost a game due to not having instant replay available.
"I wouldn't say there were any games that were affect and I don't want to go that far, but there's always calls during the year that are missed," Dameron said. "The OVC officials have always been good about if they did miss something, they have said it. Now we have less and less of a chance of that and that's something the league is excited about and I am excited as a coach."
The instant replay equipment is the same that's used by the higher levels of college football. However, Young does expect some bumps in the road since it's new to each school in the OVC. EIU's first chance to use their equipment is the Sept. 16 home game against Illinois State. The Panthers are at Illinois State and Northern Illinois in the first two weeks. Both of those schools already had instant replay.
It won't be a flawless transition right off the bat with instant replay, but Young is hoping everything will fall into place quickly and everyone will be used to using the review system in a short amount of time.
"There's bumps with everything that we do. We are going to lead off with the first weekend on the big stage," Young said. "There's two games right away where everything is in the balance. We don't want anything to wrong."