The Pac-12 reprimanded the officiating crew that worked the Wisconsin-Arizona State game Saturday. Lot of good that does Wisconsin. Lot of good that did the Sooners or the Cowboys or even the Pac-12′s own schools that are victimized by shoddy officiating.
The Pac-12 malaise is not sinister, I don’t believe, though the Cowboys might disagree, after what happened in the desert last season. OSU was flagged for 15 penalties, costing 167 yards, against Arizona. OSU had the Big 12 review the tape and was told several major penalties were bogus calls. More often, the Pac-12 is just incompetent, like what happened in 2006 with the OU-Oregon fiasco in Eugene, when the Sooners recovered a late onside kick but the ball inexplicably was awarded to the Ducks anyway, replay failed to overturn the call and Oregon eventually won 34-33.
Pac-12 replay review still has its problems — California defensive end Chris McCain was flagged for targeting on Aug. 31 against Northwestern and thus ejected from the game. The play came in the fourth quarter, so McCain was scheduled to miss the first half of the Sept. 7 Cal-Portland State game. But the Pac-12 rescinded the suspension, saying the replay review system malfunctioned. Had the system been working, the replay official would have seen that McCain was not guilty of targeting, the conference announced.
Then came Saturday night, when Arizona State beat Wisconsin 32-30, but only after a wild finish. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave tried to set up his team for a straightaway field goal, after the Badgers reached the Arizona State 13-yard line with 18 seconds left. With no timeouts remaining, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen called for Stave to run left, into the center of the field, and take a knee. Stave did that but stumbled, and it wasn’t completely clear that he took a knee. Then Stave set the ball down on the field, ostensibly so the official could spot the more quickly. But in the confusion, three Arizona State’ defenders pounced on the ball. I couldn’t label the Sun Devils as delayers of the game; heck, for a minute, I thought it was a fumble, too.
The Pac-12 officials seemed in no hurry to retrieve the ball and spot it, and when the clock ticked down to four seconds, Stave realized the game was slipping away and frantically tried to get the ball snapped. But too late. The clock hit zero and Arizona State had a victory.
Monday, the Pac-12 reprimanded its crew for not taking better control of the situation. The Pac-12 released a statement that said commissioner Larry Scott was taking “additional sanctions against officials” for their failure to properly administer the end of game situation and act with appropriate urgency on the game’s final play. This was an unusual situation to end the game. After a thorough review, we have determined that the officials fell short of the high standard in which Pac-12 games should be managed. We will continue to work with all our officials to ensure this type of situation never occurs again.”
High standards is not the norm in the Pac-12, which has had many officiating blunders over the years compared to the rest of college football. The league, for whatever reason, is behind the times in terms of solid officiating. Currently, all Pac-12 games in Pac-12 stadiums are called by Pac-12 crews, unlike other conferences which use crews from the visiting team’s conference. But change is coming. Whenever existing game contracts run out, the Pac-12 will fall in line with other conferences — the games will be called by a crew from the visiting team’s conference.
But before we place all the blame on the striped shirts, Wisconsin takes some responsibility. You don’t go messing with time in the final 30 seconds of a game, all in the name of a 32-yard field goal being straight away instead of the hash mark. And Stave made a major mistake by placing the ball down on the field. That gave ASU adequate opportunity to jump on the ball and let precious seconds ticket off. Far better for Stave to simply toss the ball to the umpire so that the ball could be spotted immediately.
“The idea of him putting the ball on the ground is to give the officials the opportunity to get the ball spotted quicker and cleaner,” Andersen said. “The officials, wherever they were, but they weren’t there to turn around and get the ball. That whole process of Joel looking around behind him, walking back there, where am I going to put the ball, how am I going to put the ball, that takes time, that takes valuable seconds and moments.”
It all was just a little too much control. A Big Ten kicker shouldn’t need the ball in the middle of the field to nail a 32-yard field goal.
Wisconsin acted with no sense of urgency, until it was too late. The same could be said the officiating crew. Which is no surprise to Pac-12 visitors. They’ve seen it before.
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