Getting split-second calls correct is a tough, tough job. You have big, fast, hard hitting athletes colliding and the eyes can only see so much. But the Pac 10 recognized a while back that the technology exists to give critical calls a quick review in order to accomplish what’s most important -- ensure the crew on the field didn't get it wrong.
But if the video review process is seen as flawed -- or worse, biased -- the problem instantly becomes one of credibility rather than competence. And then everything can be called into question. As of Saturday night, we now stand upon that tenuous precipice.
THERE WERE (at least) three questionable calls that went against Oregon State in their win over Arizona on Saturday. One was the first disallowed touchdown reception by James Rodgers. Based on the replays shown to a national television audience, it was inexplicably overturned.
The Pac-10’s standard for a reversal, or when a call is “confirmed” rather than just being allowed to “stand”, is clear: “There must be indisputable video evidence for an on-field officiating decision to be changed by the instant replay official.”
Based on the replays shown to the television audience, there was nothing even approaching that standard. A BF.C com poster, orange1and2black3blood, posted a pretty decent look at the play in question, which you can see here.
BUT WHAT IS EVEN more incomprehensible is that the replay official for the game was Jim Fogletance -- a former player for Arizona. Yes, a former player. How in the world are former players permitted to officiate games played by the alma mater?
And how in the world does the Pac-10’s supervisor of instant replay, Verle Sorgen, say; “No, I don’t,” when asked, as he was by Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune, if Sorgen has a problem with a replay official working a game involving his alma mater in his hometown?
In the same article, the Portland Tribune says that according to one source, Fogletance is also a donor to Arizona’s athletic department.
A former player at Arizona. Lives in Tucson. A donor to Arizona. Reply official for Oregon State at Arizona. Controversial calls overturned in Arizona’s favor. Oh, hey, my mistake. Why there would be a perception problem with any of that.
THE VERY BEST officiated games are the ones where the officials are virtually invisible while still keeping the game under control. Through the first half of this season, that ideal has been nonexistent in the Pac-10. Chippy play and extracurricular activity isn't being moderated or penalized, and it's come to the point where players have gotten seriously hurt.
Pac-10 refs have long had a reputation for being flag-happy, but the problem today is not that the hankies are coming out of the pocket - it's that they are coming out for all the wrong reasons. Ticky-tack and phantom calls, oh the flags are flying left and right on those. But when it comes to personal fouls and potentially injury-inducing plays, the laundry, for reasons passing understanding, stays in the pocket..
THE RODGERS BROTHERS have been on the receiving end of an awful lot of these non-calls. And now James is lost for the season. The play that ended his campaign isn’t even the first one to come in the end zone -- when after a score, the play is supposed to be dead.
The most recent of the two is of course the twisting and pulling down of Rodgers from behind, as he coasted into the end zone against Arizona. But don’t forget the atomic facemask from USC’s Taylor Mays in 2009. Rodgers’ helmet was ripped off of his head, it chipped one of Rodgers’ teeth and he got jabbed in the eye. No flag was thrown. Days later, the Pac-10 suspended an official for one game.
Against Boise State, Rodgers was the recipient of what was, after the fact by the WAC, deemed to be an illegal helmet-to-helmet collision. It left Quon with a concussion and he missed the next game. No flag was thrown. No announcement was made about any officials being suspended. The WAC suspended the BSU player for one game, BSU quickly appealed, and the suspension was quickly reduced to half of a game.
SURE, THERE ARE excuses that can be argued. James Rodgers and Jacquizz Rodgers account for a huge percentage of Oregon State's offense, so odds are that when borderline or egregious fouls occur, they will happen to the Rodgers brothers. Tackling a shorter, quick player who runs low and hard, there's more of a chance contact occurs at or above the shoulders. And on and on.
None of that matters.
It’s both unacceptable and unconscionable that flags aren't being thrown on these plays. If James Rodgers was being tackled next to the water cooler, there would be a near riot. But when he’s already in the end zone, there isn't even a flag?
It's not even arguable that these calls are being missed – players and officials being suspended by conference commissioners make that plain.
AND SINCE WHEN is body slamming a player okay – is it when he doesn’t have his helmet on? Because that’s what happened to Jacquizz Rodgers at Arizona.
When a ballcarrier's helmet comes off, the play is dead. When a whistle is blown, the play is dead. How it it that game officials can watch Quizz get WWF body-slammed into the turf -- with no helmet on -- and not throw a flag? How can a body slam happen well after whistles have been blown without a penalty being called? Stunning.
The perceived "intent" of the offending player doesn’t matter. Officials shouldn't be trying to read minds, they should be enforcing the rules. Players tackled “hard” well after the whistle(s), helmet to helmet contact, facemasks, horsecollars - it doesn't matter if they’re intentional or not in terms of throwing the flag. They're against the rules. Against. The. Rules. Rules that exist for the safety of student-athletes who are generally between 18-22 years old.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE? Clearly, season-ending injuries, players and officials suspended, and near-riots on the field of play, none of that is getting it done. Does someone have to suffer a brain injury? Does someone have to actually die on the football field?
It does seems clear from Verle Sorgen’s latest quote, that he sees nothing wrong with a replay official working a game involving the official’s alma mater in the official’s hometown, that his primary focus lies elsewhere. Chiefly, to continue to fight tooth and nail any criticism of any kind towards officials -- common sense, objectivity and overwhelming evidence be damned. Beaver fans will recall Sorgen’s quote from a few years back..
That quote was to Oregonian scribe Paul Buker, in response to a horrific blown fumble call towards the end of the 2007 UW-OSU game in Corvallis. Seen live, it was a blatantly missed call by the officials. Slo-motion replays rendered it even more atrocious. That it was never reviewed added ‘incompetent’ to the list.
The game ended with police having to escort the officiating crew off the field for safety reasons. Sorgen's quote? "..It wasn't that egregious. Unless you are an Oregon State fan," he said on the lack of a replay on the blown call .
That mindset isn’t representative of Commissioner Larry Scott’s vision for a higher standard. Neither is Sorgen’s quote this week. The Pac-10 can, and should, do better. Credibility is one hell of a hard thing to get back.
IF I COULD get Scott’s ear for a moment, I would implore him to sit down with coordinator of Pac-10 football officiating Dave Cutaia and review the extracurricular activity, and the flat-out dangerous play. The officials’ primary focus should not be on celebrations and borderline judgment calls. Rather, it should be enforcing the rules that protect players’ safety.
And I would also tell him, given yet another in a long line of comments -- ones that, at best, represent oblivion and negligence, that it's high time for Verle Sorgen to be replaced. In truth, it was time, a long time ago.
Introduce a level of integrity to the game commensurate with a body that calls itself the Conference of Champions, Mr. Scott. You can start by ensuring no official, replay or otherwise, will ever again be involved in a game that involves their alma mater.
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