Even the mighty SEC is feeling the sting from the convenience and comfort of 21st-century gamedays at home. Its solution? Make coming to the stadium that extra bit more like staying on your couch.
The SEC announced Monday it had formally approved recommendations from its "Working Group on Fan Experience," recommendations that will allow stadium scoreboards to air multiple replays of any given play and television-provided replays of plays under review by officials. Previously, in-stadium video boards at SEC schools could only air one replay of any given play, and were prohibited from broadcasting any replays from television feeds.
"The change in policy will allow our fans to see more of the action, including great plays and close calls," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. "Fans in the stadium now can see many of the same views of a play seen by fans watching on television. This should add to the overall game experience for fans inside our stadiums."
It won't be a total free-for-all; the television replays can only air on scoreboards during an official review, and only between the point at which the referee stops play play and his announcement of the findings of the review.
The Birmingham News succinctly details the impetus behind the change in policy, noting that the NFL is making a similar switch:
The big reason for the change: Trying to keep fans coming to college football games instead of watching on HDTVs from the comfort of home. The SEC once again led the nation in attendance in 2011, but its average was down 1 percent from 2010 and the league's lowest in four years.
Unless you're an SEC official, it's hard to see any real downside to the league's decision. Extra replays of the home team's kickoff return for touchdown, game-saving tackle, or crunching quarterback sack won't hurt anything (save the opponent's feelings), and it hasn't been entirely fair that paying customers inside the league's stadiums have been forced to text their friends on the couch to find out if a critical call might be reversed in the booth. You can expect an uptick in boos in the officials' direction after any number of plays, a major uptick during replays of calls that will end up being reversed, and a borderline riot if officials don't reverse a potentially reversible call against the home team. But given the innate hostility of college football crowds everywhere towards the guys in stripes, this is more a tweak than a real change.
Which means the bigger question becomes: will this actually make any difference? More replays will make the in-stadium experience better and narrow the gap ever-so-slightly between the delights of the couch and the stadium seat ... but will it narrow it enough to actually get anyone to forsake the former for the latter? We're skeptical. Unless the SEC has a plan for juicing the economy or altering the fundamental nature of college football away from a zero-sum game -- you're welcome, Kentucky! -- it's tinkering around the edges. Fun, positive tinkering with the edges, sure, but tinkering nonetheless. (Again: unless you're an official caught in a hailstorm of boos. Sorry, officials.)
One final word on the changes: they also include a provision that school bands can play until the moment the center takes his position over the football; previously, they were forced to stop once a team huddled before the snap. What are the odds that a band here or there might "accidentally" continue playing past that point in an attempt to disrupt a quarterback's pre-snap calls before a critical play? Not bad, we'd guess--which means tis could end up being the more controversial of the rules tweaks when all is said and done.
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