SEC will be forced to take action

BY foxsports • November 19, 2011

It took 12 weeks, but the college football season officially hit wacky Saturday night.

There were multiple upsets in the top 10, the BCS is a mess and we saw the craziest endings so far. But unfortunately, outshining all of that for me was a very poor decision by officials in the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game that gave the Volunteers the victory.

Ironically, it was the right call; but according to the rules, it was all wrong.

Let me set the scene:

Vanderbilt had the ball, third-and-6 from the Tennessee 11-yard line with the score tied at 21 in the first possession of overtime.

Tennessee’s Eric Gordon intercepted Jordan Rodgers’ pass at the 10 and appeared headed for the 90-yard game-winning touchdown; however, the head linesman blew a whistle and signaled that Rodgers was down.

After a review, the play was reversed and Tennessee was awarded a touchdown and the game was over.

There are multiple issues here. First, it was an inadvertent whistle by the head linesman, who apparently did not step up and admit his error. Then, to make matters worse, the referee announced that there was no whistle and there was no signal, when clearly, there were both.

At the end of the day, they got it right. Tennessee deserved to win.

But you can’t set aside a rule, or a ruling that is made on the field, just to make it right.

The SEC is going to be forced to take some action. This reflects poorly on officiating on every level.

If you make a mistake, admit it. You have to step up when you make an error. Credibility and integrity are at stake.

The replay rule gives the replay official the option to correct an “egregious error,” even if it’s beyond the scope of the replay rules. I can’t see how that would apply here, because the whistle was blown and the signal was given at the 10-yard line. The play is essentially over at that point, and players who hear the whistle stop.

So based on the ruling, Tennessee should have gotten the ball at the 25-yard line for its overtime series.

The SEC issued a statement Sunday. Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw said that the linesman blew his whistle when he thought Gordon's knee hit the ground. Because the whistle blew, Shaw said the play should not have been reviewable.

I feel horrible for that officiating crew, but somebody had to step up — and nobody did.

Let’s take a look at some of the other interesting plays from Saturday.

Virginia at Florida State

THE SITUATION: Florida State had the ball, third-and-5 from the Virginia 30-yard line with 14 seconds left in the game. Virginia led 14-13.

THE PLAY: Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel completed a 4-yard pass to Bert Reed, who was short of the first down as the clock expired. After an official review, the pass was ruled incomplete and eight seconds were put back on the clock. Virginia was called for delay of game for shouting disconcerting signals and then Florida State attempted a 42-yard field goal to win the game and missed.

MY TAKE: Another crazy ending, where replay gets involved and almost determines who wins the game. Reed was going to the ground and, in the process of hitting the ground, did appear to lose control of the ball, which eventually came totally out of his hands. I think the reversal was a good one. It’s a hard play in real time, and I can see why the officials ruled it complete. But having the luxury of replay allows the replay official to dissect the action. In this case, he came up with the correct decision. As it turns out, it really didn’t matter. But it certainly could have.

Kansas State at Texas

THE SITUATION: Texas had the ball, fourth-and-6 at the Texas 36-yard line with 3:07 left in the second quarter. The score was tied 3-3.

THE PLAY: Texas’ Justin Tucker punted the ball 33 yards and Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson attempted to catch the ball at the Wildcats’ 31. He muffed it, and it was recovered by Texas’ Tevin Jackson. However, the officials ruled that Texas’ Alex Zumberge interfered with Thompson catching the ball, and the Longhorns were penalized 15 yards for interference with the opportunity to catch the kick.

MY TAKE: The rule states that a player of the receiving team who is so located that he could have caught a scrimmage kick must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick. Up until about seven years ago, the NCAA had a rule that prohibited a member of the kicking team from getting within 2 yards of the receiver. It was called the halo rule. The rule was changed several years ago to basically coincide with the NFL’s rule that says a receiver must get an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick. Clearly when they changed this rule, they told officials that if there was any question about whether there might be interference, to call it. They felt it was a player-safety issue. In this case, I really don’t feel that Zumberge interfered. He seemed to back away when he got close. I’ll have to admit, however, that I didn’t come to this conclusion until I saw the play twice in slow motion.

USC at Oregon

THE SITUATION: Oregon had the ball, first-and-10 at the USC 20-yard line with 10:49 left in the first quarter. There was no score.

THE PLAY: Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas threw a swing pass to Marcus Mariota that was ruled incomplete on the field. It appeared that the pass from Thomas was a backward pass that was dropped by Mariota and recovered by USC’s Isiah Wiley at the 25-yard line. After an official review, the play was reversed to a fumble recovered by Wiley.

MY TAKE: A couple of things on this play. First, sometimes you get lucky when reviewing a play, especially when trying to make a decision as to whether a pass is forward or backward. In this case, Thomas released the pass right on the 25-yard line and it was first touched by Mariota a foot or so behind the line. The fact that the ball was going down the line gave the referee a visual marking to make this decision. Without the line, you wouldn’t have been able to reverse it. Second, even though the whistle is blown for an incomplete forward pass, you can review the play and if the pass is backward, you can give the ball to the recovering team, regardless of when the whistle was blown. No advancement is allowed. The right decision was made in replay.

Penn State at Ohio State

THE SITUATION: Ohio State had the ball, first-and-10 from the Ohio State 35-yard line with 36 seconds left in the game. Penn State led 20-14.

THE PLAY: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was sacked by Nate Stupar for a 7-yard loss to the OSU 28-yard line. Miller was penalized for intentional grounding.

MY TAKE: The rules are a bit different between the NCAA and the NFL when it comes to intentional grounding. The difference lies in the dimensions of what is called the pocket in the NFL and the tackle box in the NCAA. The pocket in the NFL is defined as the area in between and including the tackle position. The tackle box in the NCAA is defined as being 5 yards on either side of the player who snaps the ball. By the way, anybody on the offensive line is eligible to snap the ball. Miller got very close to being more than 5 yards from where the snapper snapped the ball, but he still was inside the tackle box when he threw the ball into an area that was not occupied by an eligible receiver. Because the foul occurred in the final minute of the fourth quarter, there was a 10-second clock subtraction. The Buckeyes were out of timeouts, so they couldn’t save the 10 seconds. By the way, part II: In the NCAA, they call it a 10-second subtraction. In the NFL, they call it a 10-second runoff. Give me 10 seconds in charge of the rules for both leagues and I’d at least get the verbiage the same.

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