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Sports Authority

Ivey: Officials continue to drop the ball

| Thursday, November 12, 2015

College football is beautiful for a number of reasons. There are the time-honored traditions of every program, the pageantry and the fact that college football players aren’t playing for money but for school pride.

This time of year is always the best time of the season, too. The weather turns and there are MAC teams playing Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the always beautiful MACtion, which means every day of November — excluding the day before Thanksgiving — has some type of football on TV. As the conference championships start to loom, every game starts to mean more and more. College football isn’t the highest quality of football by a long shot, but that only adds to the attractiveness of the sport. Crazy things happen all the time. You never know what it will be. Just look at the end of the Michigan State-Michigan game back in October or the end of the Arkansas-Ole Miss game just last week.

There’s something else that adds to the excitement of college football games: the officiating.

College football officiating has been putting teams and their fans on a roller-coaster ride for years now: two similar plays that were called differently, questionable holding calls, etc. It’s expected every now and again. It comes with the territory.

However, it might finally be becoming an actual problem.

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen two college football games decided by two grossly blown calls. Each time, the officiating crew had multiple chances to rectify their mistakes but still botched it. Even worse, the teams that ended up on the losing side of these blown calls were teams in the hunt for a conference championship or — even more important — the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot. Now their chances at history might be ruined for good by the mistakes of two officiating crews.

The first instance happened Oct. 31 at the end of the Miami-Duke game. Duke was ranked 24th in the country at the time and in the hunt for the ACC Coastal division title. The Blue Devils scored with only six seconds left to take a 27-24 lead. All they needed to do was prevent Miami from scoring in six seconds.

A kickoff, 49 seconds of real time and eight laterals later, however, Miami was celebrating in the end zone. It was an incredible finish. People will remember it for years to come.

But for all the wrong reasons.

Multiple replays show that before throwing one of the laterals, a Miami player’s knee was clearly on the ground while he had possession of the ball. The officials should have ruled he was down, nullified the play and given Duke a well-deserved win. However, after a nine-minute review, the officials upheld the ruling and gave the Hurricanes a touchdown and the win.

Miami had committed highway robbery, and the officiating crew provided the getaway car.

Many people were rightfully outraged. The loss severely damaged Duke’s hopes of competing for a conference championship. The officiating crew that upheld the play was suspended by the ACC for two games for a total of four errors committed on the final play of the game. The first error was not ruling the runner was down. The second error was not calling an illegal block in the back penalty on a Miami player during the play. The third error was calling an illegal block in the back on a different Miami player during the play but picking that flag up. The fourth error was not calling a penalty on a Miami player that left the bench and ran onto the field while the play was still going on. Four errors on one play. The most important play of the game.

That’s outrageous.

The second instance happened this past Saturday at the end of the Michigan State-Nebraska game. Trailing 38-33 with 17 seconds left in the game, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Reilly. The touchdown gave Nebraska a 39-38 lead with only seconds to go. But the officials reviewed the play. Multiple camera angles showed Reilly ran out of bounds and back into the field of play before catching the ball. If he had been forced out of bounds, the touchdown would stand, but he clearly wasn’t forced out and the correct call should’ve been an incomplete pass. But, shockingly, the officials upheld the ruling, and that was it for the Spartans.

Michigan State had an undefeated record going into the game and was ranked seventh in the country. Now the Spartans are No. 13, and the loss could destroy any chances they have of making it to the playoff.

This happened two weeks in a row. Is it crazy to think it can happen again sometime this month? Or in January?

And if it does, what will be done about it?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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