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How we can help NCAA refs see it all
In football, seeing is believing.
It’s not enough for referees to know the rulebook from front to back, but they must have the angle of view in order to apply the rules properly.
We saw this firsthand during Saturday's college football action.
In the big prime-time matchup between Oregon and USC on FOX, there were two clear examples of how an official's field of vision has an impact on the game.
With 10:40 left in the first quarter, USC quarterback Matt Barkley found wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the end zone and the crowd went wild as the field judge threw his hands up in the air to signal a game-tying touchdown. It only lasted a split second though as the back judge came over to rule it incomplete, as he was in the position to see the whole play and spot what others could not — Agholor did not keep possession as he came to the ground while completing his catch.
The ruling was confirmed in replay.
In a game where points were in abundance (113 combined points), it cost USC momentum — but it was the right call, and that’s what matters most (sorry, Trojan fans).
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Later in the same game, with Oregon leading 55-45, USC tried an onside kick that was judged to be unsuccessful, despite USC’s Nickell Robey pleading he recovered the ball before it went out of bounds.
In trying to determine whether Robey maintained control of the ball when he hit the ground, the officials did not have a good angle even though they were in proper position. The ruling went to replay, and surprisingly the call was not reversed. The referee announced that Robey did not maintain control of the ball when he hit the ground out of bounds.
The referee stated that the ruling on the field was confirmed, which means that they had indisputable video evidence that the call on the field was correct. But that was not the case — Robey did maintain control when he hit out of bounds and his knee was down in bounds when he got possession.
A replay official in the press box who was not involved in the play made the call that in my opinion was clearly incorrect.
This is another example why I would like to see the NCAA take the plunge and invest in sideline monitors so that the officials who are on the field who make these calls can be the ones to decide whether or not a call should be confirmed, reversed or left as is. The case in the NCAA is the same as in the NFL — the most qualified officials are the ones on the field, and are the ones that should be making the decisions that sometimes end up affecting the outcome of games.
When referees have the right angle to make the correct call, it will be made. If they don’t get the right angle, sometimes they don’t — which is why they should be given the power to see the replays on the field and then make the determination based on all the angles they saw live and the angles they are able to see on replay.
Here are some other plays from Saturday that caught my attention:
THE GAME: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State
THE SITUATION: Texas A&M had the ball, third-and-goal at the Mississippi State 2-yard line with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter. A&M led 31-7.
THE PLAY: Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel scrambled in the backfield before taking it up the middle and diving for the end zone. As he reached for the goal line, the ball popped out and was recovered by the defense for a touchback. The play was reviewed and the call stood.
MY TAKE: Sometimes you see things in the course of the day and you have to wonder how decisions get made. Everyone at FOX Sports headquarters, and most of my Twitter followers, felt this should have been overturned to a touchdown.
The video evidence was clear that the ball did not come loose until one of two things possibly occurred: Either the ball broke the plane or the knee was down before the ball was down. One thing it wasn’t was a fumble and a touchback.
THE GAME: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
THE SITUATION: Pitt had the ball, second-and-11, on the Notre Dame 26 during the first overtime period.
THE PLAY: As the teams were lined up for the snap, Notre Dame’s defense shifted and drew several Pitt players to jump. Officials blew the whistle almost immediately, calling a penalty on Notre Dame for yelling out signals trying to cause Pitt's offense to false start.
MY TAKE: We’re seeing more of this lately, as defensive teams shift suddenly or shout disconcerting signals in an attempt to draw the offense into a false start. We saw it in this game, and Friday night in the Cal-Washington game.
The rule is clear, stating that “Players aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage may not make quick or abrupt actions that are not part of normal defensive player movements.” It also states, “No player shall use words or signals that disconcert opponents when they are preparing to put the ball in play. No player may call defensive signals that simulate the sound or cadence of offensive starting signals.”
In college, this is a 5-yard penalty for delay of game. In the NFL, it’s 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
This is clearly what happened in this particular game. The sudden and abrupt shift by the defensive line drew an immediate false start by Pitt. Technically, even by rule, it’s a foul whether or not the offense reacts.
It will be interesting to see if more teams try this.