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Pierce: ESPN proved refs got Utah-BYU football finale right

Published September 19, 2012 10:51 pm

Replays • Video evidence left no doubt, while giving BYU fans nothing to complain about.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

ESPN2 gets an A+ grade for showing viewers exactly what happened and why in the final seconds of the Utah-BYU game on Saturday. And about a C for their explanation.

The latter grade is dragged down by a big fat F to analyst Ray Bentley for fumbling the call after Brigham Young University's 51-yard field goal was blocked in the first of two last-second plays in the University of Utah's 24-21 victory.

Television replays directly affected what happened on the field once in that final second. It explained what happened another time.

Really. The refs were right. Who would've thought?

In the end, neither call affected the outcome — owing to the Cougars' inability to convert either of two field-goal attempts. But the TV replays erased any doubt that the Utes should have won.

In the first of the two calls in question, the clock appeared to expire when BYU quarterback Riley Nelson took what seemed to be too much time throwing an incomplete pass. Watching at home, I was convinced that the game was over.

But then came the replay. And it's indisputable that the ball was on the ground with a second remaining.

(This is just conjecture, but perhaps the refs looked more closely because the clock operator had just inexplicably run the time down from 8 seconds to 4 before being ordered to restore the missing seconds.)

This is why television replays were instituted — and not that long ago. The Big Ten ran a pilot program in 2003 and began using it across the conference in 2004, and then other conferences joined in 2005.

At times, replays have caused considerable controversy. The Pac-12 suspended on-field and replay officials after they blew calls during the 2006 Oklahoma-Oregon game. The Mountain West suspended replay officials after they blew a call in the 2010 BYU-San Diego State game, and controversy arose over such calls as recently as the Oregon State-Wisconsin game on Sept. 8.

On Saturday, however, there was no room for debate. While fans in the stands had reason to be confused, fans watching on TV had none.

Of course, everybody had a right to be befuddled after that blocked 51-yard field goal. Bentley told viewers that the ball should be awarded to Utah because he mistakenly believed it was fourth down.

By rule, the kicking team can advance a blocked kick. BYU did. On third down.

By rule, the game can't end on a defensive penalty. And the referees correctly penalized Utah 15 yards on the play. As the replay clearly showed, Utah fans, players and coaches rushed the field while the ball was still in play.

Ute fans have gotten all the blame for this in many media outlets. But had they all been sitting primly in their seats, it still would have been a penalty on the players and coaches.

You can be unhappy about the call. But, again, there's clear video evidence that it was the correct call.

If Saturday's game had been played in 2004, it would have ended after that Nelson incompletion. BYU fans would still be complaining that they got robbed of that final second, and they'd have a case.

As it played out in 2012, they have none.

A television replay did exactly what it was supposed to do on Saturday night.