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AAF offers fans an inside look at instant replay decisions

Alliance Begins Football

In this Jan. 3, 2019, photo released by the Alliance of American Football, San Diego Fleet head coach Mike Martz, center, poses for photos with Alliance of American Football CEO and co-founder Charlie Ebersol, left, and head of football operations JK McKay, in San Diego. (Alliance of American Football via AP)


The first game of the brand-new Alliance of American Football is underway, and we’ve already seen something we’ve never seen before: An inside look at the instant replay decision-making process.

When a San Antonio deep pass along the sideline was initially ruled complete by the officials on the field, it went to replay review -- and the TV cameras and microphones showed the viewing audience the replay official discussing the play with the referee on the field. The call was overturned, and we got to hear exactly what the replay official has to say.

“Here’s what I’ve got: I’ve got only one foot in plus loss of control, so we are going to go incomplete pass on this play, so we’re going to go back to the previous spot,” the replay official informed the referee. “The previous spot was the minus-42, and the clock should be forward 12, the time of the incomplete pass.”

That kind of transparency is great for fans, and it would be great to see the NFL adopt the same level of transparency: Put a camera and a microphone in the NFL’s officiating command center and give the fans at home an understanding of exactly how head of officiating Al Riveron comes to his decisions on replay reviews.

Unfortunately, not everything has gone smoothly on the officiating front: The AAF made a big deal about its real-time replay official, known as SkyJudge, but when the officials on the field made an obvious mistake, SkyJudge failed to correct it: A San Antonio run on third-and-4 was clearly short of the first down, but the officials on the field blew the call and gave San Antonio the first down, and the SkyJudge didn’t fix it. SkyJudge’s primary focus will be player safety rules, plus pass interference in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, but why have a SkyJudge if he’s not going to correct such a call?

So it’s been a mixed bag of officiating tonight. But even a mixed bag is valuable, as the AAF can serve as a kind of laboratory to see what works and what doesn’t, and what the NFL should adopt.