Forget about the hand being quicker than the eye, the camera’s faster — and slower — than both of them.
Super-slow-motion replays, combined with high-definition TV pictures, have not only changed how we view a game but also how officials do their jobs. And while those innovations have been great for the couch potatoes in all of us, officials have never been under more scrutiny — or more pressure.
But, ultimately, it’s about getting a call right. And two plays from Saturday during Week 5 of the college football season were good examples of what I’m talking about, both resulting in touchdowns.
The first play was in the Arizona State game at Cal.
Here was the situation: Cal had the ball, second down and 9 from the ASU 10-yard line with 9:40 to go in the 4th quarter. ASU led 20-10. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard attempted a 10-yard pass to Keenan Allen in the end zone that was ruled incomplete on the field.
It’s interesting to me how replay takes a play that in real time looks like one thing, but then in frame-by-frame slow motion can actually isolate a shot that shows possession of the ball and a toe that is dragging ever so slightly and just enough to kick up a few rubber pellets that are part of the turf.
After a booth review, the play was reversed to a touchdown. Allen possessed the ball and his right toe touched just before the left foot hit out of bounds. The initial ruling of an incomplete pass would have never been questioned without super-slow-mo and HD. This was a good reversal, but like I said, it does put officials in a tough spot.
The second play was in the Baylor-West Virginia game.
Here was the situation: Baylor had the ball, second and 12 at the Baylor 33 with 18 seconds left in the first half. WVU led 35-28. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence completed a 67-yard pass to Lanear Sampson for a touchdown. Florence was very close to passing the line of scrimmage before he threw the ball, but after a booth review, the touchdown was confirmed.
Have you ever heard this before? “A forward pass is illegal if it is thrown by a Team A player, whose entire body is beyond the neutral zone when he releases the ball.” That’s the same rule interpretation as the NFL.
This was really close, but Florence’s back foot was on the line of scrimmage when the pass left his hand. That makes it a legal forward pass and the touchdown stood as called. Even if your big toe is the only thing still on the line, it’s not an illegal forward pass. One thing to remember: The blue line on your television screen that marks the line of scrimmage and the yellow line that indicates the first-down line are unofficial and are not used in replay.
Here are a few other key plays from Saturday.
The game: Texas at Oklahoma State
The situation: Texas had the ball, second and goal at the Oklahoma State 2-yard line with 36 seconds left in the game. OSU led 36-34.
The play: Texas running back Joe Bergeron rushed 2 yards for a touchdown. However, it looked like the ball was punched out as he dove for the end zone. After a booth review, the play stood as called.
My take: Let’s focus on three things. First, can you prove the ball did not break the plane on his initial surge before the ball got punched out of Bergeron’s hands? There wasn’t a shot down the line to prove that was the case. The shot from behind, made it appear that the ball did break the plane, but still you couldn’t prove that either way. Second, assuming the ball did not break the plane, could you prove the ball was out before Bergeron was down. I think you could. But then comes the third factor. Could you see a clear recovery by an Oklahoma State player before the scrum? The answer to that is no. You see OSU’s Daytawion Lowe reach into the pile and pull the ball out, but that is not a clear recovery before entering the pile. It’s a tight play with huge consequences, but certainly nothing in replay could have led the referee in replay to overturn the ruling of touchdown.
The game: Clemson at Boston College
The situation: Clemson had the ball, first and 10 from the Boston College 35 with 12:13 left in the third quarter. Clemson led 24-21.
The play: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd attempted a 35-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins that was ruled incomplete in the end zone. Hopkins actually caught the ball, but as he was crossing the goal line he hit the pylon with his body.
My take: This is a difference of rules between the NCAA and the NFL. In the NCAA, if a player touches the pylon with any part of his body he is deemed to be out of bounds. Hopkins touched the pylon before he touched the ball, which essentially made this an incomplete pass. His left foot came down in bounds, but due to the fact that he touched the ball while still being out of bounds made the pass incomplete. In the NFL, a player touching the pylon does not put him out of bounds. He only is deemed to be out of bounds when either foot or other part of the body touches the ground after he has touched the pylon. On both levels, if a ball is loose from a fumble and it touches the pylon, it is a touchback. If the ball is in the player’s possession as he touches the pylon, it’s a touchdown.
The game: Ohio State at Michigan State
The situation: Ohio State had the ball, third and 6 at the Michigan State 46 with 12:27 left in the fourth quarter. Ohio State led 17-13.
The play: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller rushed for 12 yards, fumbled and the ball was recovered by Michigan State’s Kurtis Drummond. The officials on the field ruled that Miller was down, but after a booth review, the play was reversed.
My take: There was a day when this type of play wasn’t reviewable in both the NCAA and NFL. At the time, rules-makers identified the two biggest plays in replay as scoring plays and changes of possession. Originally if a runner was ruled down, you could not review this because the ruling (whistle) killed the play. However, if a runner was ruled to have fumbled, you could review that and overturn the call to mark him down if the replay showed as much. To make it equitable, that was changed so that an instance when a runner is ruled down before losing the ball could be reviewed. Yes, it means playing through the whistle, but it was clear to everyone that players play through the ruling any time the ball was loose. I think this was a great change, although it still doesn’t correct the whole play because Michigan State probably would have returned this fumble recovery for a touchdown if the play had not been ruled dead. At least replay does the next best thing, which is to give Michigan State the ball without the advance.