Sun Belt Conference Responds to Alamo Bowl Inquiries
|Courtesy: Sun Belt Conference
Response to questions concerning Sun Belt Officials in the 2005 Alamo Bowl
When we first became a football conference in 2001, we knew that credibility was an important part of the equation for success. We have invested in football officiating, and we go to extremes to evaluate our officials both physically and mentally before they go on the field. Our continuing education of officials is in some ways ahead of the normal procedures in Division I.
Because of the thoroughness we show in the training and evaluation of our officials, we have had incredible success in post-season bowl games. The satisfaction of the participating teams with the quality of our crews working the Independence Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Silicon Valley Bowl, Peach Bowl and this year’s Champs Bowl has been very rewarding.
We took the criticisms of our officials who were working this year’s Alamo Bowl seriously. We have taken extra measures to determine if our crew was correct, and if not, what could be done to make sure that we improved. We have had the tape of the game not only evaluated by our Coordinator of Officials (which is our normal practice) but also an independent IA Coordinator not involved with this game and also an active NFL official. The report of their evaluation is below.
Before you read the report, I think it behooves all of us to be reminded that officiating is not an exact science. The post season has shown us that at every level, including the BCS and the NFL. Just as every play doesn’t score a touchdown and every defense doesn’t stop the opponent for a loss, there has never been a perfectly officiated game. It is the nature of working with humans.
Recently, USA Today published the average number of fouls called by various leagues, and the Sun Belt Conference led the nation in average penalties called per game. I was not surprised, given the resources we commit on a regular basis to officiating. Our officials are a little ahead of our game, but the play is catching up fast. Our issue is not the number of penalties called or if our officials’ shoes are polished to high gloss, our emphasis is “did they get it right?” That will continue to be the emphasis in all our sports.
There is much in this report to be proud of, and there is also much in this report that gives us room for improvement. We will now use this as a learning experience and continue to try to improve the quality of our officiating program. We remain very confident in the abilities of our officials.
2005 Alamo Bowl
Summary of Officials’ Evaluation
The following summary consists of information from three reviews of the Officials’ Performance in the 2005 Alamo Bowl. The bowl game was officiated by a crew of officials from the Sun Belt Conference. The three reviewers were as follows: the Coordinator of Officials from the Sun Belt Conference; the Coordinator of Officials from another I-A conference who was independent of all conferences involved; and an active Referee from the National Football League.
There were 19 fouls called during the game and 16 were enforced. Three fouls were graded as “correct pick ups” by the three reviewers. Two of the fouls that were picked up were Delay of Game penalties called against the offense. On both occasions, the offense called time-out just as the Back Judge was flagging the infraction. On both occasions, a time-out was correctly awarded in place of a five-yard Delay of Game penalty. The third foul that was picked up was a Defensive Pass Interference penalty called by the head linesman. The penalty was picked up because the receiver contacted the ball behind the line of scrimmage, thus no Defensive Pass Interference call can be made because the ball never crossed the line of scrimmage. The Line Judge (the official responsible for determining if the ball was behind or beyond the line of scrimmage) correctly ruled that the ball was indeed behind the line of scrimmage.
The other 16 foul calls were all graded as correct calls by the three reviewers. (See attached foul report.) There were four calls/rulings in the game that were graded as incorrect rulings by one or more of the reviewers. These calls are as follows:
Quarter 1 – 9:23: Head linesman rules the runner is down. The ball comes out just prior to the runner’s knee touches the ground. All three reviewers agree that this was an incorrect ruling. The runner recovered his own fumble so there was no impact on the game from this call. The TV announcers criticized the Replay Official for not reviewing the play. Replay guidelines do not allow the Replay Crew to review a fumble play once the runner has been ruled down by the officials on the field. Since the runner was ruled down, there can be no “over-turn.” Actions by the Replay Official were correct.
Quarter 2 – 1:11: Contact on the Michigan receiver on an under-thrown pass. Incomplete pass ruled by the FJ and LJ. Officials ruled the contact was incidental and did not warrant a foul call. Ball falls short (after QB is hit as he throws) and the receiver comes back for the ball and contacts the defender who does not realize the pass is under-thrown. All three reviewers felt that defensive pass interference should have been called on this play.
Quarter 4 – 10:10: Punt receiver is contacted just as he catches the ball. BJ correctly ruled a Kick Catch Interference foul on a play almost identical at the 15:00 mark of the 4th quarter. All three reviewers felt that another Kick Catch Interference call should have been called on this play.
Quarter 4 – 2:39: 4th down pass play near the goal line. A bang-bang pass play that was ruled as an incomplete pass by the crew. The sideline view looked like a good defensive play. The end zone view at slow-motion, frame-by-frame speed showed the defender’s hand and arm on the receivers back. Two reviewers did not have regular speed view of the play from the end zone – only the slow motion replay. Both thought Defensive Pass Interference should have been called. The Sun Belt Coordinator of Officials had a “live” view of the play from the end zone (basically the same view as the deep officials’) and felt the “no call” was appropriate because the pass was behind the receiver and there was some question that the movement of the receiver to reach back for the pass caused the “turning action” and not the contact by the defender. This was one of those plays that could go either way and would make half the people happy and the other half upset.
Much discussion and television time has been given to the last play of the game. The play began with two seconds on the clock. Seven backward passes were thrown on this play. The 6th pass was muffed and picked up by a Michigan player who pitched the ball backward to a teammate who ran the ball down the Michigan sideline and was finally tackled out of bounds at the Nebraska 15 yard line with no time on the clock. All three reviews agreed that all seven of the backward passes were correctly ruled by the crew. Two of the reviewers noted that the crew was in the correct position to rule on all of these backward passes. After the muffed backward pass (#6), the Nebraska players and coaches in the team area came onto the field thinking the game was over. Some players and coaches from Michigan also came onto the field at this time. During the last advance by the Michigan player (after backward pass #7) there were players and coaches from both teams on the field. The officials ruled that the actions by the players and coaches who came off the sideline were Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls, not illegal participation fouls. Unsportsmanlike conduct fouls that occur during a live ball situation are “live ball fouls, penalized as dead ball fouls,” and are enforced from the succeeding spot. Since there was no time left in the game, there was no succeeding spot, thus the game was over. The ruling by the crew was a correct one, but from a Public Relations stand-point, the Referee should have made a post-game announcement that explained the ruling. Since there were upwards of 300 people on the field after the play ended, the Referee decided that he could not make such an announcement and that the prudent thing to do was leave the field. All three reviewers felt that an announcement by the Referee would have been good “PR”, but acknowledged that this announcement would probably not been heard.
Replay Official and Replay Crew
There has been discussion by the media of several replay situations during the game, some of whom expressed concern before the first replay opportunity because they thought the Sun Belt Conference had not been involved with replay during the season. The conference did, in fact, use replay at two of their schools and the persons involved with replay at the Alamo Bowl had previously worked replay during the season. There were four significant “replay opportunities” during the Alamo Bowl. All were handled as they are intended to be handled according to NCAA replay guidelines — guidelines that were established by the NCAA rules’ committee in their February, 2005 meeting. These four “opportunities” were as follows:
Quarter 2 – 1:01: The spot of illegal touching of a Michigan punt was correctly reviewed and the ball was placed at the correct spot at the Nebraska 14 yard line.
Quarter 3 – 9:02: Nebraska is awarded a touchdown on a low pass in the end zone. Replay reviewed the play right away and “buzzed” the crew, but got no response. Replay Official noticed an “Error” message on the pager base and had to reset the pager system. After the reset, he was able to notify the crew that the play was under review. Fortunately, in this case, Michigan felt strongly that the ball was not caught and called time-out. This gave the Replay Official enough time to reset the paging system. The touchdown catch was correctly over-turned as an incomplete pass by the Replay Official. In hindsight, the Replay Official should have notified the Referee that he tried to shut the play down prior to the Michigan time-out and that there was an equipment malfunction. If this had happened, the Referee would have re-instated the Michigan time-out.
Quarter 3 – 1:12: A very tight inbounds/out of bounds call on a possible interception by Nebraska at the back of the end zone. Back Judge and Field Judge ruled that the Nebraska defensive back did not possess the ball with a foot down. The Replay Official shut the play down and correctly over-turned the ruling on the field. Nebraska gained possession after the touchback ruling – 1st and 10 on their own 20 yard line.
Quarter 4 – 6:06: Quarterback’s arm is hit from the backside and the Referee correctly rules a fumble, not an incomplete pass. Quarterback’s forward motion of his arm is an “empty hand” movement, meaning the ball is loose in his hand as a result of the defender’s hit, prior to his arm going forward. Replay reviewed the play from several angles and confirmed the Referee’s ruling on the field, thus, no stoppage of play was required. The television broadcasters were very critical of the Replay Official for not stopping the game and reviewing the play. Stopping the play was un-necessary because the Replay Official had already confirmed the ruling on the field.
Speed of the Game
None of the three reviewers found any evidence that the game was too fast for the crew. At no time did any official get beat to the spot on the field that correct CCA mechanics dictated for that official. Every goal line play and every end line play was correctly covered, and there were no positioning errors by the crew. The only mechanics error in the game was the incorrect placement of the ball at the wrong hash mark after the Nebraska touchdown catch was overturned – 9:02 of quarter 3.
The Umpire generally records this on his fingers, but since the ball had been placed in the center of the field at the three yard line for the PAT, he had already switched his rubber band to the new placement in the center of the field. The Referee ask the Replay Crew where the previous spot was – yard line and position on the field — and the Communicator had the wrong hash circled on his play-by-play log. Nebraska made their field goal from the incorrect (right) hash mark, but they would have preferred the ball to have been snapped from the correct (left) hash mark
The two independent reviewers had the following summary statements:
NFL Referee – “Overall, thought the crew did a good job. Speed of the game was about average and crew was not over-run or overwhelmed by the speed of play. Tough game to work as both teams committed a number of fouls. Thought the announcers were overly critical of officials and at times did not know rules for which they were criticizing officials.”
I-A Coordinator of Officials – “I thought they did an excellent job and if it were not for the last play, nothing would have been said. There were no more misses by officials in this game than by any of the BCS conference crews in any games they worked.”