Using Instant Replay to Challenge a Call in American Football

Under the instant replay challenge system, a coach who disagrees with a referee’s call can ask the referees to review that call with instant replay. (The NFL resurrected this system in 1999 after trying and abandoning it in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the NCAA has been using it since 2004.) Coaches can challenge up to two calls per game. However, if they challenge a call and the referees decide after reviewing it that the call stands, the team that issued the challenge loses a timeout.

To challenge a call, the coach must make the challenge before the ball is snapped and the next play begins. To signal a challenge, the coach throws a red flag onto the field of play. Usually, coaches wait for the replay to be reviewed in the coaches’ booth upstairs, or they view the play on the stadium’s big screen before issuing a challenge.

The instant replay challenge system has its supporters and dectractors, for the following reasons:

  • Supporters: Say that challenges make the game more fair. The speed of the modern game puts a real strain on a referee’s ability to make accurate calls. Instant replay challenges offer teams an opportunity to reverse the occasional bad call.

  • Detractors: Say that instant replay challenges slow down the game and aren’t “instant” at all. As well as the usual interruptions for timeouts, clock stoppages, and penalties, instant replay challenges take away the very thing that fans love most about football — its speed and excitement.