Instant replay debuts in dramatic fashion

New system leaves coaches and players with complaints and questions

MADISON—There were plenty of debuts Saturday. John Stocco made his debut and was 8-for-18 with 164 passing yards, two touchdowns and two fumbles. The renovated stadium and its enormous scoreboard made its debut and wowed fans and players alike. Instant replay also made its debut and added some accuracy but mostly confusion and length to the game.

Like every new athlete on the field and every new stadium reconstruction project, the instant replay has its bugs, which is certainly to be expected. No one is perfect after all, and instant replay will not solve every problem in each game, nor will the policy and procedure be flawless. Both the coaches and players found a pretty big flaw when instant replay was implemented at Camp Randall Saturday.

The referees relied on instant replay only twice—on consecutive plays—in Wisconsin's 34-6 crushing of Central Florida. The first instance occurred on a fumble and resulted in a potential 50-yard touchdown being called back. UCF sophomore quarterback Steven Moffett was sacked by redshirt freshman defensive end Jamal Cooper at the 50. Junior will linebacker Dontez Sanders picked up the ball and made a beeline to the end zone for a 50-yard return.

The play was called into contention and the replay official, while watching the play, ruled that Moffett did indeed fumble the ball but that Sanders' knee was down and the play was dead at the 50.

"It was reviewed for two reasons," referee Steve Pamon explained. "It was reviewed first of all to make sure that that was a fumble. And then while they were reviewing to see if that was a fumble, they found out it was in fact a fumble but Wisconsin recovered the ball and he was down."

Sanders differed in opinion and made it known whenever reporters asked him whether or not he thought his knee was down on the play.

"No. I'm going to say no. I'm going to say no," Sanders repeated, later adding that, "My knee was in the air, running."

The second play that required attention immediately followed the first. Wisconsin controlled the ball at the 50-yard line and sophomore quarterback John Stocco handed it off to senior tailback Anthony Davis. Davis skirted along the sideline before he was pushed out at what the referees on the field initially thought was the 28-yard line. The Big Ten replay official, perched within the press box, buzzed the officials, though, indicating that the play should be reviewed. The referees took a look and decided that Davis stepped out of bounds at the 41-yard line, initially giving Wisconsin a first down after a gain of what would have been nine. The replay official then buzzed the field again, reversed course, and gave the Badgers the ball at the 29. All told, the review took several minutes to unfold and resulted only in the loss of a yard, while it disrupted Wisconsin's game flow.

"The only thing that bothers me is we had all the momentum in the world on two consecutive plays and I don't think the intent of that rule is to stop the game for five minutes to see if he stepped out five yards prior to the spot—I don't think that was the intent of the rule," Alvarez said.

"I mean, I guess it's good to get the right call," junior tight end Owen Daniels said hesitantly. "I think a couple of those took a little while and we wanted to get the game rolling. If they cut down on the time, I don't think it would be a real issue at all."

Central Florida special teams coordinator Dave Huxtable, who was acting as head coach while George O'Leary attended his mother's funeral, had another issue with instant replay. Central Florida, like all of any Big Ten opponents' non-conference teams, had to agree to use instant replay when playing teams in the Big Ten, which they did. Huxtable, however, had questions on when the instant replay is activated and when it is not.

The play in question was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Stocco to junior wide receiver Jonathan Orr in the second quarter, the same drive from which the two instant replays stemmed. Alvarez believed Orr was clearly in the end zone ("I thought he was clearly in," Alvarez said.) Orr did not know where he landed ("Really, I had no idea just what happened," Orr said). Huxtable thought Orr was clearly out of the end zone.

"It slows the game down," Huxtable said on the instant replay. "I don't know what makes them decide when to use it and when not to use it. The one touchdown on the corner route over there, you look at the board here at the stadium, and it sure looked to me like his foot was in the white out-of-bounds. I asked the official, ‘Why can't we get an instant replay on that?' Well they decide that up in the press box. What's the deciding factor whether they want to look at it or they don't want to look at it?' I don't understand the whole thing myself, but right now if you ask me I would not be in favor of it."

To the referees who deemed the pass valid and to the officials who agreed, Orr was clearly in bounds and the touchdown stood without question.

"They (Big Ten officials) saw that the play was ruled correctly on the field; therefore, they didn't buzz us for a replay," Pamon said.

So how does Sanders, who could have added a 50-yard touchdown to his statistics, feel about instant replay?

"I'm not a fan of it at all," said the animated Sanders. "No, I don't like it at all."

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