5 Officiating Controversies From The Past Weekend

My goodness, this was some kind of weekend for college football. Once again, a slate of games that seemed to hold very little box-office appeal turned into a very entertaining 12 hours. Only the late games fizzled for the most part, and even then, Nevada-Arizona proved to be an exception in that regard.

Part of what made so many of Saturday’s games so fascinating — albeit for reasons we’d rather not have to deal with — was the collection of various officiating questions and controversies that arose. We’re not even going to touch on Kentucky-Florida here, because that’s worth stand-alone treatment in a separate piece. Several moments from Saturday’s games revealed so much about the tangled mixture of thought processes, interpretations, visual evidence, and the freedom (or lack thereof) to juggle all of them. Here are five situations that beg for more analysis, plus a non-controversial example which shows exactly how a replay-review process is supposed to work.



In real time, I felt that the first Iowa State endgame field goal against Iowa — the one waved off due to Kirk Ferentz’s timeout — was good. Let’s say this: Whether or not the kick was good, it was closer than this Arizona State field goal against Wisconsin last year… and that kick was erroneously ruled good (and not reviewed).

Here’s video of the Iowa State field goal, courtesy of ESPN. Having been given a chance to freeze-frame the play, which is labeled “4th quarter 0:07,” you will see that at 0:45 in the video, the ball sweeps to the side as it approaches the upright. The ball seemed to be heading just inside the upright, but a late swerve to the left kept any part of the ball from going inside the upright, which is what is needed in college football to create a good field goal. The official got that one right, and it’s important over the course of the season to mention instances in which officials get close calls right. This was one of them… even though the play didn’t count. It’s worth mentioning just in case you — like me — left that game thinking Iowa State made the field goal the first time. It didn’t.

You may now resume your normally scheduled bashing of Kirk Ferentz.



The best commentator on all things (football) replay in the United States is FOX Sports expert Mike Pereira, who is always worth reading and listening to on these matters. Pereira weighed in on some of the notable plays from Saturday in the college game, and while I personally felt the replay-booth reviewer (and I take a dim view of replay-booth reviewers in general…) made the right call on the Georgia Southern-Georgia Tech lateral which gave Georgia Tech possession late in the fourth quarter, Pereira’s point about the word “indisputable” is well made and well taken. One of the biggest problems with replay review is that in situations when there’s a clear lack of “indisputable visual evidence,” reviews take well over three or four minutes. A two-minute cap should be set in place for replay. If the production truck for the television network can’t provide an angle which clearly shows a call should be overturned, then at two minutes, there’s only one decision to make: Uphold the call.

There are two more things to say about this larger matter, though:

First, when one uses the word “indisputable,” the meaning of the word is going to carry different implications for different sorts of plays. On a lateral-versus-forward pass question, I personally think that there has to be clear evidence that the pass is forward. I need to see that the ball was released at the Georgia Tech 28 yard-line (or at least, the 27.5) before it was caught by the Georgia Southern tailback at the Tech 27. However, the replay angle I saw (and I will admit that it was not looking straight down the line; the camera angle was a bit slanted) suggested that the pitch was released at the same spot where it was caught. On a lot of option pitches, you’ll see the momentum of the quarterback carry him backwards in such a way that his subsequent pitch drifts half a yard forward relative to the release point. I didn’t see that here.

If a person can’t locate any clear sign that a pitch is forward… well… isn’t that what a lateral is?

To be more specific about the matter, sometimes “indisputable” doesn’t necessarily mean “X event happened.” It can sometimes mean “The opposite of event X  did NOT happen.” In other words, this is a “proof of absence” situation, not an “absence of proof” situation, and it’s an extension of logical reasoning that is more valid in some replay situations, less so in others. For a lateral-versus-forward pass, “proof of absence” — more specifically, “proof of absence of a forward pass,” argues in favor of the replay ruling and the notion that there WAS indeed indisputable evidence to overturn the on-field ruling of a forward pass. We are surely going to see more “proof of absence” situations this year in evaluating calls through the prism of what is (and isn’t) “indisputable.”

There’s a second point to be made here about the quickness with which plays are processed and reviewed: Sometimes, everything works just as it’s supposed to, and this is the extra case study not included in the five controversies from the past weekend: UCF receiver J.J. Worton caught a pass late in the first quarter against Missouri, but replay was needed to overturn an on-field ruling of an incomplete pass. 

The SEC Network production truck for UCF-Mizzou deserves an A-plus for its performance on Saturday. The truck showed a few side views of Worton’s catch, but it then found a third camera angle which removed any and all doubt from the play. The process of reviewing the play did not go on forever. This was and is the gold standard for how a production truck, a replay-booth reviewer, and a replay communicator should all work together. It’s possible for everyone to get things right. It’s just such a hit-and-miss reality in the current climate.


We see it every football season: One player baits another into leveling a blow during a dead-ball segment. The official catches the second retaliatory blow, but not the first.

Here’s a look at Todd Gurley of Georgia committing not one, but two, unsportsmanlike conduct fouls against South Carolina on Saturday, all while South Carolina players leveled retaliatory blows and got flagged for one of them. Gurley was not flagged:

It’s really rather simple: After decades and decades of officials missing first blows and calling second ones, let’s just be able to adjudicate the matter more comprehensively and accurately, as the excellent college football writer Matt Brown says here:



Check out this vine from The Student Section’s Locker on Saturday, courtesy of TSS contributor Kevin Causey. You might think that this play by Virginia Tech receiver Isaiah Ford in the Virginia Tech-East Carolina game was and is a questionable call, therefore making it possible to uphold said call in the replay booth.

However, this is a classic case in which substantial visual evidence precedes an interpretation of legal possession.

It is true that another Virginia Tech receiver, once upon a time, established a basis for giving the receiver a catch if he possessed the ball first, and then had the ball move or roll around in his hands while the ball touched the ground. Danny Coale showed that if a receiver initially secures a basic grasp of the ball, the ball can — and should be allowed to — touch the ground without possession being lost. This basic insight was absorbed by rules officials, who smartly amended the rulebook to give catches to receivers who demonstrate great effort and concentration to get their hands on the ball before it touches the ground on its own.

This Virginia Tech play was not the Danny Coale play, though. As you can see in the Isaiah Ford vine a few paragraphs above, Ford bats the ball with his left hand, with the ball floating in the air for a second. Then comes the telltale point in the sequence, illustrated by this visual:


… and then this one:


Forget the fact that these two hands are surrounding a glowing image that’s not a football. The “flat-hands principle” is easy enough to… well… grasp.

If a receiver gets a flat hand on the ground (image 1), it serves as a buffer between the ball and the ground. This is what saves completions and leads to legal catches in the kind of situation from the Virginia Tech game. Isaiah Ford, though, put his hands around the ball, as shown in image 2, above. If a receiver does put his hands around the ball, instead of getting his hands under the ball — generally in the flat position illustrated in image 1 — he has to firmly grasp the ball in the air, before it touches the ground. If the receiver firmly grasps the ball in the air and then has the ball touch the ground, he should receive a legal completion under the provisions of the so-called Danny Coale Rule. If there’s doubt as to whether the receiver establishes initial possession in an “around-the-ball” hand position, as opposed to the much safer “under-the-ball” position, the ruling should almost always be an incomplete pass.

There is simply nothing from the vine above which shows that Ford — in an “around-the-ball” position and not an “under-the-ball” position with his hands — gained initial control before the ball touched the ground. This was a case in which the ball touched the ground and the receiver THEN clasped his hands around the ball from the side, never getting one or two hands flat on the ground to clearly prevent the ball from touching the ground before the act of securing possession.

This was and is the kind of decision by a replay-booth reviewer which makes centralized replay that much more attractive. You’ll note that the home team got the benefit of the call, raising just the slightest bit of doubt about a booth reviewer’s vulnerability to the emotions of being on site at the stadium. A reviewer from a command center would be less susceptible to any possible tug of emotion.



The West Virginia-Maryland game was an officiating analyst’s nightmare. This game involved one of the craziest, most nuanced, and multifaceted plays you’ve ever seen… and it was one the officials got exactly right. Mike Pereira wrote about it in the link provided above, which I’ll re-link to here.

In this game, there was a muffed punt by Maryland, which was returned by the Terrapins for an apparent touchdown. However, a case of kick-catch interference also came into the play, AND… yes, there’s still more to this… the Maryland punt returner signaled for a fair catch.

Two things here: First, the rule saying that the signal for a fair catch prevents a muff from being returned by the receiving team is a good rule. The signal of a fair catch is meant to promote player safety, among other things. Once that happens, there should be a restriction on actions after the catch or the attempted catch. That’s a good rule, and anyone who’s read me going back to my days at College Football News knows that I can’t stand the college football rulebook; if a rule is good, you know it has my utmost respect.

Second — and this is the not-so-good part of all this: Maryland, had the punt returner not signaled for a fair catch, would have been given a touchdown on the return of the muff by a teammate. The officials initially ruled a touchdown on the play, but when they realized a fair catch had been signaled, they properly took it off the board.

Here’s the point to mention: Why can the receiving team return a muff but not the kicking team? That’s yet another baffling point of inconsistency in college football’s rules. Both teams can run after catching passes. Both teams can return fumbles. Only one can return or advance muffs.



That’s the muffed punt from WVU-Maryland. However, there was another situation which the lead official simply missed.

Go look at the video of West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert’s 47-yard game-winning field goal against Maryland, courtesy of Big Ten Network. The sequence begins at 0:52, and you’ll see the relevant action at 0:54.

Lambert clearly lurches forward and then briefly stops before continuing his stride into the kick.

Never seen a false start by a kicker before? Recall how Oregon got to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game against Auburn. The Ducks needed California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio to commit a false start before a field goal that, on the re-try, he missed. Is this rare? Sure. However, it happens, and Lambert committed the penalty against Maryland. It’s the biggest controversy no one’s talking about in the college football world.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |