There are a lot of statistics that Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook keeps close tabs on — opponent hitting percentage is a biggie, as is serving — but in recent years he’s also keeping track of his success when it comes to the challenge review system.
That’s the instant replay system where coaches can challenge a call made by the officiating team during the match. The second referee may reverse a ruling only if the video review reveals indisputable evidence that the referee’s ruling was incorrect.
Of course, success in winning those reviews comes with mixed emotions. Coaches would prefer the calls were right the first time, especially when coaches are limited to three challenges per match and don’t get the challenge back even if the call is reversed.
During the Huskers’ road trip to play Michigan and Michigan State last month, Cook went a combined 5-for-5 in having the call reversed, with three during the Michigan match and two against Michigan State.
“That’s five points on the road against two great teams that we would lose,” Cook said. “This is why I think we need to go to four lines people. The game has gotten too fast, and they’re too close to the line.”
The review system has added some interesting elements to the sport, such as players lobbying their coach to challenge the play, and fans watching on the big screen and being their own judge of how the review should go.
It’s also done what Cook was afraid of when the review system began three years ago in slowing the matches down. And a long review can suck the energy out of the gym. During the second set of the Huskers’ match against Maryland last week at the Devaney Sports Center, it took 3 minutes, 3 seconds to review if there was a block touch (Nebraska lost the review).
Cook said instant replay is even worse than he expected in killing momentum.
“The system has got to get smoother, faster,” he said.
But Cook thinks the system needs to be in place, and after schools have spent the money for the equipment, the option to use it isn’t going away. Cook said he’s heard that 40 percent of calls are being reversed, so it’s working. Cook said he’ll also try to make the case after the season that if you win the challenge you should get another challenge.
When a coach thinks the officials got the call wrong, they hold up a jasmine-green card and tell the second official what part of the rally they want reviewed.
Examples of calls coaches ask to review are if the ball was in or out, whether or not the ball was played before contacting the floor on defensive plays, or if an attack touched the fingers of the blockers.
Then the second official goes to a monitor at the scorer’s table and reviews the play. The official has access to several camera angles.
The NCAA does not require schools to use instant replay, but this year the Big Ten Conference went to a universal replay system for all 14 schools. So at Devaney there are six camera angles for the referee to look at. There are four cameras hanging from the rafters pointed at each corner of the court, one center camera similar to what you see on TV, and one net camera. By request, the referee can also see what was shown on TV during the play.
The four high cameras are an improvement over past years; previously those cameras would be following the action instead of focused on one corner of the court. But because of how big the Devaney Sports Center is, the cameras are a long way from the action, and the cameras work better in some of the smaller volleyball arenas. And the equipment isn’t as good as what’s used in the Olympics, where the cameras can easily pick up the slightest movement of a finger on a blocking touch.
Cook said the players have a big influence on when he decides to challenge a play because the far corner of the court is hard for him to see from the bench.
“As (TV broadcaster) Paul Sunderland said, the challenge system has made volleyball players honest now. They tell the truth. They have to,” Cook said.
Cook has estimated that he’s won 80 percent of the plays he challenges.
“Coach takes a lot of pride in that. He’ll be like, ‘Come on guys, I already lost one today, so you got to be really sure,’” outside hitter Annika Albrecht said. “We’re like, ‘OK, I swear I didn’t touch it; I don’t know what more you want from me, there was no contact.’ I think we have a big part in it, because he’s not out there.”
During the review, the players and coaches huddle near the edge of the court. After they’ve talked strategy, they look at the big screen and watch the same video the referee is reviewing.
If Nebraska wins a review at home, it can create some excitement from the crowd.
“Some of the reviews are kind of just annoying, but it’s always good when it’s a tough time, or the score is close and something doesn’t go your way and then you get it back, that’s always a great feeling,” setter Kelly Hunter said. “It’s just good to know that point ended up the way it probably should have.”