Tonight I watched a football game between two very good teams from the great Pac-10 conference. The Oregon Ducks were rolling into Tempe, Arizona tonight to face the upstart Sun Devils of Arizona State. The crowd was into it for the first time in a while at an ASU game, the teams were pumped to start up conference play, and the queso dip I prepared was phenomenal.
The teams played and played and played their guts out on the field in the 95º heat after midnight in Arizona. They were playing hard for a good 3 1/2 hours on a hot night. In the end, it was Oregon that held on just long enough and got enough takeaways to put the game away with about two minutes left, escaping the trap game in Tempe with a sloppy win.
However, the face of the game was greatly changed from what it really seemed like it was supposed to be. The difference was the officiating. And it needs to be fixed.
It's been known for some time now that Pac-10 officials are particularly maligned in the college football world. Everyone knows about the Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick, but few recall the numerous egregious mistakes by the officials that went Oklahoma's way in that game before that play. Things such as literally not knowing where the ball should be spotted after a deadball. Things such as giving Oklahoma a spot for a 4th and 1 instead of a a 4th and 3 in Oregon territory, leading to an Adrian Peterson rushing TD out of a dive run. Oklahoma players stepping out of bounds en route to a much larger run or reception without a review thereafter.
This was a long time ago though. These mistakes should be a thing of the past, right?
Tonight there were numerous pass interference calls and no-calls that were extremely questionable if not flat-out wrong that affected the game. One called back an interception for Oregon. Others came at very inopportune times to give the team an automatic first down solely for putting the ball up in the air and hoping to take advantage of the referees' trigger happy reactions to plays where they feel they could call pass interference.
The second thing that was even more frustrating tonight were the refs' tendency to blow plays dead far too prematurely. And this has been a constant theme, especially with offenses who use screen passes and backfield flares for their yardage. Often these passes will be either slightly forwards, slightly backwards, or directly perpendicular to the field orientation, making it a very tough judgment call in a pinch. However, much too often officials seem to make the bold decision to call the play dead with the supposed incompletion. And this doesn't make sense to me. See, the thing about that is this: if the play is blown dead and the players treat it as a fumble and scoop it up, the ensuing return (and, actually, the recovery itself) is nullified. However, tonight a strange situation arose in the aftermath of this very marginal judgment call. Arizona State ran a flare route towards the sideline to a HB. The HB dropped the ball and, treating it as an incompletion, let it go and gave up on what seemed to be a dead play. The whistle had blown.
However, Oregon had picked up the ball and started to run it downfield. With one man to beat, LB Casey Matthews cut just towards the middle of the field, beating the last man at about the 40 or 50 yard line. However, the play had been blown dead, and all Oregon players, frustrated, had to let up. The third quarter had ended with this play, so a break was being taken. Upon returning from the break, the players and viewers were notified the ruling on the field was reversed, and Oregon was awarded possession of the ball at the spot of the fumble. I am an Oregon fan, so a part of me was glad to hear the mea culpa from the officials, giving my team the ball, but the other part of me was amazed that we were deprived of six points on the return that we would surely have had had they not blown the play dead in the first place. This very type of play arose numerous times throughout the game, a few times ending in what was ruled an incomplete pass on the field not being able to be challenged or reviewed. Either the protocol is not being followed by the Pac-10 officials regarding sideways passes, or there needs to be serious overhaul in the process undertaken by the officials to determine the ruling on the field. It seems completely harmless to me if they were to let the play unravel -- possibly resulting in a fumble return for a TD or what have you -- and use the review as a fallback to determine if it was actually an incomplete pass.
Have these kind of officiating procedure errors not been identified by the Pac-10 higher-ups as huge, glaring weaknesses that to an extent affect the perception of the conference?
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not all complaints. Mr. Scott, you've obviously been seriously instrumental in the shake-up of the conferences this past offseason, and that's a good thing. The Pac-10 conference has undergone some definite re-invention, which has been (so far) pretty successful. I think you're doing a superb job. I'm only offering this as a bullet point for the next offseason. Because fans are tired of it, and players are tired of it.
There are poor calls in all conferences of all sports, I know. I won't pretend like the Pac-10 is the only one with lackluster officiating. However, this has been a continual problem in the conference. Year after year. And I know that if there's one guy who seems like he can really identify what needs to be changed and get right after it, you'd be the man for it, Larry Scott. Which is good, considering you are the man right now in the Pac-10 for that kind of thing.