Week nine in college football crammed a lot of absurdities into its collection of FBS games, but what stood out was not just the volume of absurdity on hand, but the severity of it all.
The centerpiece of week nine was obviously this event, which you can re-live by clicking on the hyperlink:
THE LOCKER: Worst replay ruling ever? Worst replay ruling ever — in #OhioState–#PennState: http://t.co/ZSTNzuxBym
— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) October 26, 2014
The Big Ten replay booth said it didn’t get the right feed.
Well, there’s a way to handle a problem like that if you’re the replay reviewer and replay coordinator:
Garbage. Game should've been delayed. RT @ESPNRittenberg B1G statement: …only one isolated shot from the overhead camera was available
— Jon Lustig (@jonlustig) October 27, 2014
We remind you that the Big Ten actually already has a central command center.
It’s also worth pointing out that while the Big Ten has new and modernized headquarters, it created the command center concept more than just a handful of years ago, in 2003. The Big Ten did indeed bring replay to college football. To preside over the appallingly, extremely errant call of an Ohio State interception is absolutely inexcusable.
The Big Ten officials on the field for Ohio State-Penn State also allowed this to happen:
Play clock expired three seconds before Ohio State field goal #OSUvsPSU
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 26, 2014
B1G statement to http://t.co/Y2XYMmBcNU admits “breakdown in officiating mechanics” on Ohio State FG. Proper ruling should have been penalty
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 27, 2014
I’m going to withhold comment on Ohio State-Penn State for a brief moment, just because you also need to read this explosive piece of commentary on officiating from the past week, courtesy of Mike Pereira of FOX.
The Southeastern Conference responded thusly:
SEC statement on the charge game officials communicated via radio with some other person in violation of rules. pic.twitter.com/6t4vQ5RRhn
— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) October 26, 2014
I do not know for a fact whether Pereira or the SEC is correct, and frankly, I don’t even care who’s correct. What’s the larger point here? There is an appearance of impropriety, at least to the point that the SEC feels it has to defend itself.
Why are we having this conversation in 2014 with spectacular Big Ten replay-booth errors in Happy Valley and SEC questions in Alabama-Tennessee? More to the point, why does college football entrust replay mechanisms/operations/decisions to localized clusters of people in stadiums where communications and technology are less reliable than in a central command center… WHICH THE BIG TEN ALREADY HAS IN PLACE, WITH OFFICIATING EXPERTS REVIEWING CALLS AS THEY HAPPEN, ANYWAY?
It is LONG PAST TIME for college football’s conferences to adopt centralized replay from a command center, with the conference’s officiating coordinators in said command center to smoothly process all sorts of officiating questions. This should have been done years ago, and it’s absurd — with all the TV money flowing through conference coffers (especially for conferences that already have their own cable networks) — that this simple step hasn’t been taken. Full stop.
Other absurdities from the week:
Consider this from the Ole Miss-LSU game:
They're really about to give #OleMiss db a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for spinning the ball. That's so stupid!!
— Christian Bruey (@CBrueyWFTV) October 26, 2014
College football, DON’T BE LIKE THE NFL, which penalizes players for spinning a football in celebration. This is supposed to be fun, and logic tells us that spinning the ball is a personalized celebration, an act of joy. Throat-slashing and the like are meant to threaten or show up an opponent and should be severely punished. Spinning a ball? Where’s the common sense in the room, and where are the grown-ups who can see that?
In the Steel City, Georgia Tech watched Pittsburgh fumble five times in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Yellow Jackets scooped up one short-field touchdown after another and led, 28-0, before anyone’s seat was warm.
Staying in the ACC Coastal, it wasn’t enough that Virginia gave up a go-ahead touchdown pass to North Carolina when the Tar Heels had to insert a backup quarterback due to the helmet rule (which forced starter Marquise Williams to leave the game for a third-down play; he lost his helmet on second down). The Cavaliers had one last chance to get the ball back in the final minutes, down by one point (28-27). North Carolina faced fourth and two at the Virginia 21 with 1:17 left and called timeout. After the timeout, Virginia put 12 men on the field, giving North Carolina a first down. Just when you thought Mike London’s tenure in Charlottesville was beginning to turn the corner…
USC-Utah was an absurd game for all sorts of reasons, beginning with one specific play, which escaped notice from most national commentators because:
A) Many of them had gone to bed.
B) Fox Sports 1, the game broadcaster, didn’t make note of this in real time when the play happened (though it would be unfair to expect announcers to catch every pick play, since the occurrence is so selectively called a penalty).
Here’s the play, which we made note of in a Locker post:
Pick play. @TomahawkNation? pic.twitter.com/x5PnJbkNB3
— ⚡️#BeatUNC⚡️ (@iTdatCANEdUDE) October 26, 2014
Beyond that incident, USC-Utah was absurd because USC head coach Steve Sarkisian coached well at the end of the game… but still lost.
Sarkisian and the USC offensive staff came up with two excellent play calls on third and fourth down, when the Trojans needed just one more first down to ice the game, leading 21-17. On third and two, Cody Kessler — who had played really well at quarterback to that point — simply had the ball slip out of his hands as he began to throw it. A clean pass to an open receiver in the right flat would have gained a first down. On fourth and two, USC’s Nelson Agholor turned the corner on the left sideline, part of a clever play by Sark. Agholor beat his primary defender on the edge and just needed to stay in bounds for a few more steps. Improbably, he stepped out of bounds short of the sticks. Utah then drove down the field to end the game.
I’m skeptical of Sarkisian’s ability to turn around USC, but fair is fair: Sark made good calls near the end of that game. He just wasn’t rewarded for them. Weird stuff happened. In the wake of a World Series contested by two wild card teams that failed to win 90 games in the regular season, we should have a greater tolerance for weirdness in sports.
The other absurd part of USC-Utah: The Utes fumbled twice inside the USC 2-yard line, one of them on a play that was initially ruled dead by a premature and errant whistle. Within all the absurdities that flowed from week nine’s events, a big dose of credit should be given to the replay booth in Salt Lake City for overturning not just the call, but allowing USC to get the benefit of a recovered fumble. Credit also belongs to college football’s rulemakers for instituting policies flexible enough to allow for the overturning of a bad call involving a premature whistle. Two or more years ago, Utah probably would have kept the ball on its third-quarter fumble at the USC 1.