Blame game

Blame game
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
November 10, 2006

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Yahoo! Sports report on instant replay: Rush to judgment | Restructuring replay

So last season's Granddaddy of Them All – the 41-38 Texas thriller over Southern California that made Vince Young a legend and the Longhorns BCS champions – was, it could be argued, decided by a $100 TiVo machine and some stadium worker who crisscrossed the cables?

Beautiful. Seriously, there couldn't be a more fitting way for the confusing, confounding BCS to be determined.

College football's championship system earns hundreds of millions of dollars for a parade of suits in suites. But when it comes to making sure the actual game isn't as controversial as the computer formula that determines the matchup, they aren't even willing to spring for the best stuff at Best Buy and the Geek Squad to work it.

While the idea that the folks running college football are as hapless as you at hooking up their digital recorder is uplifting to some technophobe Americans, we figure the Trojans aren't among them.

A Yahoo! Sports report examining last January's Rose Bowl has discovered gaffes behind the scenes. Now two key plays that should have been overturned by instant replay are under even greater scrutiny.

And the reason is simple – comical human errors that were born from not just an absurd cheap-out by the Big Ten (among others) but a lack of planning, training and establishing of a uniform replay system.

College football's push to NFL-style instant replay was supposed to cut down on controversy. Instead it has just fostered new ones. I swear, the only thing these guys really take their time planning is the BCS revenue sharing formula.

According to many still in the instant replay booth, while there have been improvements in some places since last January's debacle, there remain gaping holes that could impact not only who plays in the BCS title game, but once again who wins it.

We feel for the guys in the booth. They are middle managers, tech guys, old officials. They all want to get the call right. This isn't some nefarious plot. They get pained over mistakes. They are human.

Which is why they deserve the best equipment and the best training money can buy. Not this wing-and-a-prayer stuff where when the system fails, they get hung out to dry, criticized and threatened while their boss disappears.

Here is what we know about the Rose Bowl. Two game-changing plays in the second quarter were miscalled on the field and apparently should have been switched by instant replay officials in the booth.

One was a Reggie Bush fumbled lateral at the UT 18-yard line that was actually a forward pass. USC should have retained possession. Instead, the Horns took momentum and charged down the field for a field goal.

The second was a lateral from Young at the USC 12 to a teammate who raced in for a touchdown. Replays showed Young's knee was down before he released the ball, meaning neither the lateral nor the touchdown should have been allowed.

If replay officials had been able to see multiple replay angles – as they were supposed to – the Young play would have been overturned. The Bush play could have been reversed as well.

But they didn't because the wrong feed (courtesy of an improper cable hookup) was going into a humble TiVo system (the NFL uses far more sophisticated technology and better trained personnel) for a crew that was too inexperienced to notice and properly trouble shoot pregame.

The replay booth only had the original camera angle, which showed little. So the plays stood, and the controversy goes on.

Now, it is ridiculous to claim the result of the Rose Bowl would automatically have been different because of these two plays. You can't just take away plays in the second quarter and apply them to the final score. Each play in a football game affects every ensuing play.

So, maybe Vince Young would have found a way for Texas to win anyhow. Or maybe not. The problem is we'll never know.

Officials knew almost immediately why they had blown the Young call. The cable feeds were fixed minutes later at halftime. But the official explanation in the second half from Dave Parry, the national coordinator for officiating, was about a "malfunctioning monitor," which was not only inaccurate but possibly duplicitous.

It wasn't the monitor's fault. It was the BCS's powers-that-be – its conference commissioners – who decided to implement a cool NFL-style replay system without first setting standards for training, technology and oversight. In the case of the Rose Bowl, that meant the Big Ten's Jim Delany, who went with a TiVo and a technician from his league office, not a more experienced replay crew from one of his schools.

Last year, rather than state-of-the-art replay machines and standardized training – things the big conferences could easily afford (USC athletics alone made $60.7 million in 2005) – the Big Ten went with cheap machines and overwhelmed officials.

You could say college football learned its lesson in Pasadena, but only if you think the fact that just four conferences – the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC – ponied up for the superior (although not NFL caliber) DVSport system, which costs about $20,000 per machine.

The Pac-10 went with the TiVo-based XOS system, which costs about $10,000 per machine.

Little surprise the Pac-10 has had a controversial year in terms of officiating, punctuated by the September's Oklahoma-Oregon debacle. In that one, a technician with truncated training said the replay official's monitor didn't clearly show all the angles on the botched call.

For that a dutiful 64-year-old official got death threats, national scorn and OU president David Boren absurdly declaring it "an outrageous injustice."

But the whole thing sounds like a Rose Bowl-redux; so forget getting the calls right, how about treating people right?

Maybe Boren should apologize to the old official and spew his venom at the suits whose failure to properly plan and pay set up this entire house of cards.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Saturday, Nov 11, 2006 2:59 am, EST

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