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Bad Beats / Lucky Wins

   by Larry Ness - 09/20/2006

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I made the following statement on a Las Vegas radio show in the late 1980s, "The referees are on the field to insure that the players do not determine the outcome of the game!" While at the time I made the quote "tongue-in-cheek," time has proven that maybe it's time to take my tongue out of my cheek?

Each Wednesday, I recap the past weekend's games in which I touch on any number of the "Bad Beats and Lucky Wins" in both college and pro football. While there were plenty of bad beats and lucky wins this CFB weekend (and a number in the NFL as well), beginning with the Kansas/Toledo game on Friday (by the way, if you had Kansas you got robbed-I had Toledo!), I want to change my focus for this week's column.

This past CFB weekend saw SEVEN games between teams ranked in the AP poll, the most-ever on a single day since the AP began including 25 teams in its ranking back in 1969. It should have been a memorable day but rather it turned into an embarrassment.

BYU played at Boston College in a 12 noon ET start and while both teams had a chance to win in regulation, the replay official 'stole' a win for BC in the second OT period. Down 30-23, BYU had a pass nearly intercepted by BC on its potential game-tying drive. The MWC official on the field ruled incomplete because the ball hit the ground first. In the booth, without anything resembling conclusive proof, the ACC official overturned the call, giving the win to the home (ACC) team. It also gave Boston College the ATS win.

In the LSU/Auburn game with Auburn leading 7-3 in the fourth quarter, officials encountered a pass interference call muddled by a deflection. LSU was denied a first-and-goal late in the fourth quarter when the replay official overturned the call on the field. The replay guy said Auburn's pass interference happened after the tip and therefore was allowable. However, replays clearly showed the tip coming AFTER the interference. Auburn held on to win 7-3, laying 3 1/2 points.

On a weekend of bad officiating, the Oklahoma/Oregon game had the worst of the worst. In that game, officials had two chances to get a replay right but missed both calls. Oregon capitalized with a last-minute touchdown and an extremely controversial 34-33 win (Oregon was favored by 4 1/2 or five points, so the ATS winner was not effected). Here's how it ended.

Oregon trailed 33-20 but scored with 1:16 remaining in the game to close to 33-27. Oregon tried an onside kick but a Duck player c-l-e-a-r-l-y interfered with the ball before it had gone the necessary 10 yards. However, the replay officials missed that call and gave Oregon possession. The bigger crime however, was that whether or not the ball did or not go the required 10 yards was irrelevant (it DIDN'T!), because the ball was recovered by an Oklahoma player anyway! The field officials missed that call too and because possession isn't reviewable, Oklahoma got screwed twice!.

Then came a pass interference call against Oklahoma. There was legitimate interference on the play but it came after the pass had been tipped at the line of scrimmage. That means the interference was allowable but only if officials saw the tip. Of course they missed it on the field, as well! In the replay booth, staring at the same replay you and I saw, they missed it again!

The replay official reportedly lives in Portland. Now I'm not going to say the replay official from Oregon intentionally missed two calls to benefit Oregon, because that would make him a cheater. However, I am saying the replay official from Oregon missed two calls despite incontrovertible evidence! What does that make him? Incompetent, I guess. In all three of the above cases, the mistakes benefited the home team, or the home team's conference (which assigns the officials).

It seems fair to me, we should question why. Do officials get caught up in the moment, in the excitement, and lose their composure and their competence? Do subconscious biases in favor of their league's schools affect what they're seeing with their own eyes? These are ugly questions that the NCAA wishes we wouldn't ask. However, they are questions that, after this past weekend, we have to ask!

"Errors clearly were made and not corrected, and for that we apologize to the University of Oklahoma, coach Bob Stoops and his players," Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said in a statement. "They played an outstanding college football game, as did Oregon, and it is regrettable that the outcome of the contest was affected by the officiating." Both the replay official and the on-field officials were suspended for a game.

Nice try Tom. The trouble is, Oklahoma's been saddled with a devastating loss while Oregon not only gets an undeserved win but is rewarded by moving up from No. 18 in the Coaches' poll to No. 12, while Oklahoma dropped from No. 11 to No. 16. If you don't know, the coaches' poll makes up one-third of a schools' BCS ranking. No apology can change those facts.

I began this piece with one of my more memorable quotes and I'll close it with the best one I saw this past weekend. It comes from CBS Sportsline.com columnist Gregg Doyel. He opined "Get rid of replay entirely -- on the field, off the field, in my living room, everywhere. Why? Because I'd rather THINK the officials are blowing a game than KNOW IT!. Well said Gregg!

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