It was Big Easy for officials, too

While offenses have exploded in the NFL, it seems like defense still wins championships in the NCAA.

Just ask LSU.

Alabama got revenge for its 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in November by shutting out LSU 21-0 to win the national championship Monday night in New Orleans.

It was the first time in history that a team has been shut out in a BCS bowl game, let alone the national championship game.

You want to know how disciplined the Crimson Tide were Monday night? They committed no turnovers and only one penalty.

Just as it was back in November, the game became a field-goal-kicking contest until late in the fourth quarter, when Alabama scored a touchdown.

From an officiating point of view, it’s always easier to officiate a low-scoring game like this. In fact, there were only six penalties called the entire game.

There weren’t many, but let’s take a look at two of the interesting calls in this game.

THE SITUATION: LSU had the ball, fourth down and 6 from the LSU 47-yard line with 10:04 left in the third quarter. Alabama led 12-0.

THE PLAY: LSU’s Brad Wing punted the ball 43 yards. Alabama’s Christion Jones signaled for fair catch at the Crimson Tide 25. The Tigers’ Ron Brooks was called for an unnecessary-roughness penalty.

MY TAKE: The question here was whether the fair catch signal given by Jones was valid or invalid. Who am I to argue with the national coordinator of NCAA officiating, Rogers Redding, who was quoted by Brent Musberger during the broadcast as saying that the signal was legal.

The rule, as eloquently pointed out by some of my Twitter followers, states that "a valid signal is a signal by a player who has obviously signaled his intention by extending one hand only, clearly above his head and waving that hand from side to side of his body more than once.”

It certainly didn’t look like Jones’ hand clearly extended above his head. On the other hand, the NCAA has been very liberal in respect to what is a legal signal and what is not. Once they eliminated the old "halo” rule, the NCAA has made the point that it wants the receivers of a kick protected. That includes situations even when a fair catch signal is not given.

Moving to Rule 6 in the college rule book, it is an "interference foul” if the kicking team contacts the potential receiver before, or simultaneous to, his first touching the ball. The rule goes on to state that, when in question, it is an interference foul.

In summary, while technically the signal was invalid, the philosophy dictated by the NCAA makes this a foul in my opinion, whether there was a signal given or not. And by the way, there is no foul for invalid signals. You do, however, lose normal fair-catch protection.

THE SITUATION: Alabama had the ball, fourth down and 4 at the LSU 32-yard line with 13:17 left in the second quarter. Alabama led 3-0.

THE PLAY: Alabama lined up to kick a field goal and faked it. Quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was the holder for the field goal, then threw a shuttle pass to Chris Underwood for four yards and a first down. The spot was close, and the Crimson Tide got the first down by an inch. The replay official initiated a review, and the ruling on the field of a first down stood as called.

MY TAKE: It’s a game of inches. And there’s likely not going to be a spot any closer than that with as big an impact. In my opinion, veteran head linesman George Gusman, from Honolulu, nailed that spot.

What you didn’t get was a TV shot from right down the line, which would have been the only way you could have told for sure whether the spot needed to be adjusted. All networks covering field-goal attempts usually start with a shot from behind the kicker as their live shot. That’s what ESPN did, and that’s why we ended up with no down-the-line shot.