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Wednesday, May 8, 2019: FOX analyst Pereira not bullish on H.S. video replays

   Leading off today: The finest Swiss watches are only slightly more consistent than New York high school football fans, who send me emails like clockwork asking about two topics almost any time I blog on statewide football issues:

  • Will Long Island ever join the NYSPHSAA football playoffs?
  • Is video replay coming to New York high school football any time soon?
   The answer to the first question always has been "probably not" and will likely remain that way for quite a while.

   As for the second question, the man who might know more about video replay than the rest of us combined issued a caution this week that the high school sport may be going down an imprudent path. FOX Sports NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira had a lot to say this week on the subject, which took on new life in February when the National Federation of State High School Associations approved a rule to permit state associations to create instant-replay procedures for state postseason contests.

   "I think it's taking it too far. I think when you talk about amateur sports, you have to be careful how far you go," said Pereira, who was doing interviews to promote the Battlefields to Ballfields officiating program (more on that below). "I understand the pressures of intercollegiate sports, so I see it there, but I want the game to still be a game. It gets to the replay, whether it's the Kentucky Derby or whether it's Major League Baseball or any other, it leads to controversy. Whether it's technology or not, it's still humans that are making the decisions.

   "I understand the importance of winning, but I also think that the further you get, where you're taking the human element out of the game, the more dangerous it gets."

   A brief history lesson:

   The NFL introduced video replay for regular-season games in 1986, with reviews initiated upstairs by the replay official rather than coaches challenges. The reviews were largely limited to turnovers and whether players broke the plane of the goal line.

   After two years of testing in preseason games, two coaches challenges per half were introduced in 1999 and the NFL took the decision-making out of the booth and gave the responsibility to the referee on the field. A replay assistant initiated reviews in the final two minutes of each half.


   Owners finally voted in 2007 to make video replays a permanent part of the rules. Seven years later, officiating staff members stationed at the league offices began consulting with the referee during reviews to help establish greater consistency across the league.

   Pereira found himself in the middle of some of the replay system's most formative years as he served as the NFL's man in charge of officiating from 1998 to 2009, retiring with the title of league vice president. A year later, he became one of the most talked about analysts in TV sports when he joined FOX's NFL coverage to break down and explain tough officiating decisions.

   Other networks quickly jumped on the bandwagon to hire rules analysts in everything from golf to NASCAR racing.

   Pereira's vast experience, which began on the field with youth football games on Sunday afternoons in East Palo Alto, Calif., gives him perspective on the replay issue that casual fans can't begin to approach. He admits that his feelings on the use of replay have evolved.

   "I was a part of instant replay when it first came back in the NFL in 1999 and I loved it," he said. "And why wouldn't I? I ran a program that I got abused when mistakes were made, I would get abused by the teams that were affected


by the mistakes and so the fewer mistakes, the better. So I liked it.

   "The now of it, I kind of transitioned more towards being a fan. I see how it's really to me kind of gone beyond its original intent, and I'm not so sure I like it anymore from the perspective of a fan and as an official.

   Pereira is concerned that replay has become a bit of a crutch for officials, who can fall back on reviews by means of multiple cameras optimally positioned in NFL stadiums and operated by some of the best professionals in the business. The guys in the truck can queue up replays from every angle in a matter of seconds.

   The quality and quantity of equipment won't be available for high school games, nor will the officials have the experience that allows them to readily determine which calls should be upheld and which need to be overturned.

   "I just wish that, as we move down to the high school level, that we would realize that the game is the game and these are kids that they're playing and good athletes will get scholarships whether they win or lose a game," Pereira said. "It puts more emphasis on the officials and sets them up for more abuse and not less. The fact that in isolated instances we have had the courts get involved and overturn decisions that have been made is just astounding to me.

   "I just don't like that direction."

   Compounding his concern is the likelihood that the scrutiny will ratchet up each successive weekend as the stakes grow greater in the playoffs. Imagine the emotion the first time a call gets overturned in a high school final in a state where the game might attract 20,000 or more fans, many of them young.

   One need not go back further than the past weekend to appreciate the emotional factor. Pereira was flying home to California on Saturday after attending an NCAA replay clinic in Chicago, and his phone blew up upon the plane touching down.

   "I'm like, 'What the heck happened in the four hours that I was in the air?'"

   What happened was the first disqualification of the winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby. The outrage was immediate and talk radio has kept the controversy in the spotlight since -- and this a sport that has used finish-line photography for decades and routinely relies upon video reviews by race stewards.

   "And this thing's going to linger with appeals and all this kind of stuff," he said. "It's going to linger for months."

   Battlefields to Ballfields: As mentioned above, Pereira has been doing interviews this week to promote the innovative Battlefield to Ballfields, which will be conducting a golf tournament in the Rochester area to help fund the national program.

   Battlefield to Ballfields strives to provide veterans an opportunity to re-engage with their communities through taking up work officiating youth and scholastic sports. Founded by Pereira, the program has more than 200 veterans, including more than a dozen in Rochester and Buffalo, in the pipeline at a time when many state associations across the country are dealing with a shortage of officials.

   The money being raised pays for the uniforms, equipment and training for officials for up to three years in a variety of sports.

   The tournament is June 17 at Cobblestone Creek Country Club in Victor. The $250 per golfer registration fee includes the round of golf, lunch, dinner and on-course beverages. More information is available here.

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