College baseball instant replay: Inside the video review command center
In the bottom of the fourth inning of Saturday’s Super Regional game between Louisville and Cal State Fullerton, Mike White of the Cardinals hit a line drive to right field. The Titans’ Dalton Blaser made a diving catch for the second out of the inning … or did he?
Louisville wanted to make sure the ball didn’t hit the turf before it hit Blaser’s glove, and the crew chief walked to the side of the field to put on a headset.
For the first time in college baseball history, a national postseason game had a play going to video review. The call was quickly confirmed, and play moved on. But the process of what went into that “ideal” 25-30 second delay goes much deeper.
Replay review has been available in the Men’s College World Series since 2012, but its use has not been called upon. Last season, some conferences implemented experimental replay for their conference tournaments, and the first review of any kind came in a Gonzaga vs. Santa Clara game in the WCC tournament. Other conferences that have had it available in conference tournaments are the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, SEC and Southern Conference. This past season, the SEC was also able to use it in conference games.
“If there’s a controversial call and we can get it right, that’s the goal,” said Randy L. Buhr, NCAA Director of Championships and Alliances.
With that goal, especially with trips to Omaha and the CWS potentially on the line, the NCAA started plans to implement replay review to the Super Regionals as early as January. For the first time, college baseball replay review would be centralized instead of an umpire looking at a monitor on-site. The NCAA partnered with Turner Sports and Turner Studios to set up a review command center at Turner’s offices in Atlanta.
|Deciding if an apparent home run is fair or foul|
|Whether a batted ball left the playing field for a HR or stayed in play|
|Spectator-interference (only on plays involving HRs)|
|If a batted ball that lands past first/third is fair or foul|
|Catch or no catch in the outfield or foul territory (not in the infield unless it results in a third out)|
Then, the group that includes two members of the NCAA Baseball Umpire Program Staff was called into action around 12:15 p.m. ET on Saturday to review Blaser’s catch. They were ready.
“We’re looking at it before we get the call,” one official said.
Only an umpire can initiate a review, and a head coach can request one. The Atlanta crew has one person who will talk to the crew chief, and one who will be in contact with ESPN’s on-site production truck, requesting additional angles if necessary. The crew chief gets the call from the command center and signals it to the stadium, and the broadcast communication is open if it needs any more explanation as to why the call was what it was.
Each host site has one designated facilitator in the event of a review. They use custom intercom kits that were shipped overnight to the hosts as soon as they were known, and tested before the games started to ensure the simplest and easiest communication between the command center and the stadium.
“It was flawless execution,” an official said of their first live test.
There may be more tests in the Super Regionals; there may not be. Either way, the NCAA/Turner team in Atlanta will be ready to make the call as quickly and accurately as possible.