The University of Wisconsin football coach sang the praises of the Big Ten's implementation of instant replay this season during a joint press conference with Georgia head coach Mark Richt at the Quorum Hotel. Richt's Bulldogs and Alvarez's Badgers will face each other in the Outback Bowl at 10 a.m. Central Jan. 1.
In its first year of use, the Big Ten's instant replay system received plaudits throughout the league, spurring the conference office to recently petition the NCAA for an extension of its permission to use the system and to ask the NCAA to implement it throughout Division I college football.
"I was very pleased with it," Alvarez said Tuesday.
Alvarez, though, was more than a little skeptical after the Badgers' season opener. In the Big Ten's system, a replay official in the press box watches replays available via television feeds and notifies the officials on the field (through use of a pager) if a play should be reviewed.
The first two replays came on consecutive plays in Wisconsin's game versus Central Florida. The second replay took nearly five minutes to determine that UW tailback Anthony Davis had stepped out of bounds only one yard behind the initial spot.
"I wasn't real crazy about it at that time because we had momentum in the game," Alvarez said. "I thought there were a lot of bugs that we had to work out
"As the season went on I felt we worked through some of those things."
Replays were used 43 times this season, in 28 of 57 eligible games. The average replay took two minutes, 39 seconds and games that included a replay were an average of three minutes longer. Twenty-one calls were overturned.
"As the season went along, I don't think there was any coach in our league that thinks it's bad," Alvarez said.
The system clarified any possible questions in one of the Badgers' biggest games of the season, a dramatic 20-17 win at Purdue Oct. 16, in which senior cornerback Scott Starks' fumble recovery and ensuing touchdown return in the game's closing minutes was reviewed. The replay official upheld the ruling on the field that Boilermaker quarterback Kyle Orton had fumbled.
"Purdue would have argued forever that that was not a fumble [that] the ground caused the ball to come out," Alvarez said. "But the game was stopped, it was a big enough play to determine the game…I think that was really important."
Richt expressed ambivalence towards the use of replay.
"Tell me what the rules are when the season begins and let's play," he said. "If everyone wants it, I'm fine with it. I don't think that it's that big of a deal one way or another."
The coordinator of SEC officials, Bobby Gaston, has said he would like to see a system similar to the Big Ten's implemented in the SEC.
"It sounded like it wasn't overused and if it's a crucial situation and it can make the difference, that's fine," Richt said.
"I don't want the games to drag on," Richt said. "Our games are long enough as it is. I used to worry about guys getting tired. I don't even worry about getting tired anymore because there is going to be a three-minute timeout every second."
The playoff plague
When asked about the possibility of implementing a college football playoff system, Richt and Alvarez were in emphatic agreement.
"I'm not in favor of that," Alvarez said. "I love bowl games, as a player playing in bowl games and the experiences I had, the experience I've had as a coach watching young people enjoy bowl games."
"I think college football has the best regular season of any sport in America," Richt said. "I think a playoff system could diminish some of the games in the middle of the year…Now, the way it sits, every game is for the National Championship, every game is for an SEC or Big Ten championship.
"Every game is so important and so valuable. I'm afraid you might get what you want as far as what everyone would consider more of a true National Championship, but I don't know what we would lose in the process."
Players and coaches from each team have praised the Outback Bowl for the events it has planned. The teams enjoyed an outing at Busch Gardens Tuesday.
"I think if it were a playoff, I don't know if you have a week [to enjoy]," Alvarez said. "It would probably be like playing an away game….You'd come in the night before, play the game and go home, hope that you win so you could play next week. It would eliminate what bowls are today."
Alvarez was asked Tuesday about Wisconsin's propensity for developing NFL-bound offensive lineman. It was a fair question: 16 Badger lineman have made an NFL roster since 1992. Wisconsin has four seniors— guards Dan Buenning and Jonathan Clinkscale and right tackles Mike Lorenz and Morgan Davis — who could raise that number to 20 by next fall. Three of those players are Wisconsin natives.
"Have you ever been in Wisconsin?" Alvarez replied. "We have the biggest people in the world. They don't run very fast and that had a lot to do with how we developed our program. I can get some big old cats out there. There are some giants in our state. We can always recruit offensive linemen. I have a very good offensive line coach [Jim Hueber] who does a nice job of developing."
"When I took the job I knew that the heart and soul would have to come from Wisconsin," Alvarez said with a laugh, "but the hands and feet would have to come from elsewhere."