PROVO — In the end, the outcome of Saturday's BYU-TCU football game ended up in the hands of a three-man crew stationed nine stories above the Edwards Stadium playing field and equipped with two TiVo units, a 23-inch flat screen monitor, a 17-inch basic monitor and a pair of VHS/DVD recorders.
Not to mention a final decision on TCU's game-tying touchdown, which led to a game-winning PAT kick and the Horned Frogs' 51-50 overtime victory over the Cougars.
On the controversial scoring play, TCU's Cory Rodgers was carrying the ball toward the goal line and was hit by defenders as he neared the right end-zone marker. Before it was all over, the ball was fumbled out of bounds in the end zone, with the Cougars calling for a game-ending touchback on the fumble while the Frogs joined the officials signaling a touchdown — that the ball had crossed the plane of the goal line.
Then came the instant replay, as the on-field officials gave way to the eye-in-the-sky threesome of the replay official, the assistant replay official and the video technician.
And the call, with both teams and a crowd of 58,000-plus hushed in anticipation: no irrefutable evidence to overturn the ruling on the field.
Touchdown TCU, with the ensuing PAT giving the Frogs the 51-50 victory.
"The ruling on the play was that the player crossed the goal line before he fumbled the ball, resulting in a touchdown," said game referee Gerald Wright. "We advised replay and they could not irrefutably say that it was any different than the way it was called on the field. So, the play stood."
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he was satisfied with the outcome. "What I heard on the headset was that our coaches thought it was a fumble and that we recovered it," he said. "That's what they passed on to me. I didn't see it. I trust the replay system, and it worked effectively. They reviewed it, and the review stood."
Actually, the replay system — in its inaugural season in the NCAA after last year's Big Ten Conference experiment — benefited BYU twice in the second quarter.
TCU quarterback Tye Gunn appeared to complete a 32-yard pass to Quentily Harmon, only be ruled as an incompletion when the replay booth said Harmon was out of bounds. Instead of first-and-goal at the BYU 2, the Frogs were sent back to the original line of scrimmage and settled later for a field goal.
Later, Daniel Coats was ruled to have fumbled deep in TCU territory, with the Frogs recovering and their offense rushing to start a play before a replay request could be initiated. Mendenhall called for a replay — by tossing the red-orange flag on the playing field from the sidelines — and the replay showed that Coats did not fumble; the Cougars retained possession and eventually kicked a field goal.
While on-field officials cannot ask for a review, the replay official can call down to the field and initiate one. Also, the Mountain West Conference is the only league allowing a "coach's challenge," where a coach can request an instant replay.
A coach can challenge only once a half and only if the team has at least one timeout remaining. If the challenge is successful and the play is overturned, the coach is allowed one additional challenge in the half; if unsuccessful and the play stands, the team loses a timeout and cannot make another challenge in the half.
Granted by the MWC by a request from its football coaches, the coach-challenge element is used in all conference games as well as all nonconference games played at MWC home sites.
The new replay policy makes a distinction about what constitutes a reviewable play. For example, many judgment calls and penalties cannot be reviewed.
"The challenge system, I thought, worked effectively — it worked twice for us," said Mendenhall, who later learned the first replay had been initiated by the replay booth. "Even though I threw the red flag, they told me afterwards that the referee had been paged (by the replay official), even before my flag — and I threw it quickly."
The final decision on all replays is made in the booth by the replay official, and it requires irrefutable evidence to overturn the call on the field — which is exactly what happened on the final touchdown of the BYU-TCU game.