I have been watching college football as long as I can remember.
I'm a huge fan of the game. I'm not sure if I am the biggest, but I sure am up there. I have seen changes over the years, some good and some bad, and some just make one area better while making others worse.
While I have a lot to talk about this offseason, one of the things I want to put a lot of emphasis on is the officiating. What I don't understand is how it gets steadily worse year after year.
Many thought a few years ago that adding instant replay would make the game better and that the officials wouldn't settle outcomes. Nothing could be further from the truth; it has made officials less competent and takes away the accountability they have to the fans and the game.
At the start of the year, new clock rules were instituted to speed the game up. Has the game gotten too long, or did the game get too long for TV? I am a huge fan of the game, and I even wrote an article about how there could never be too much football.
To be honest, after this season, I can see where they are coming from. It isn't the game or the pace of the game itself; it's a lack of confidence and accountability on the referees.
Every fumble, every sideline catch, every touchdown caught within two yards of the sideline is reviewed. It has turned the exciting catch in the corner of the end zone into a buzzkill, a wait until after the four-minute official review and then we can celebrate experience.
It takes away what makes us fans of the game. First the guys can't celebrate with a high five for a great play, and now the fans can't celebrate when their team scores—at least not until they are cued to do so.
I realize the idea of replay is to "get it right," but even in this it fails. In 2007 I thought I saw the worst call I had ever seen in my life during the UConn-Louisville game, when the UConn punt returner signaled for a fair catch, caught the ball, and ran it into the end zone untouched for a TD that stood, which ended up being the game-winner.
I have since realized that almost all of the most ridiculous and worst calls are not reviewable. I can only believe that these are the calls that are so absurd and so unfathomable that no one could have even dreamed them up to include them on the list as to what is reviewable.
In 2008 it seemed like officials forgot how to spot the ball. While I sat through reviews over 10 minutes long that were pretty clear if a three-yard reception was a catch or not, ball spots two and three yards off were not reviewed. With the new clock rules, every spot and first down counts for a lot, especially in the fourth quarter, when most of these calls seem to take place.
I have yet to figure out if it has come down to a matter of not caring or just not getting it. A spot of the ball can be more important than a catch or at least as important, especially in certain game situations. They are both field position changers.
In many instances I see bad officiating being forgiven as the game turns out to be a blowout. I don't believe it should be, and the blowout is often the result of bad officiating.
In the Texas Bowl, the final score was 38-14 by Rice over Western Michigan, on any level a blowout. But as the game was on the NFL Network and up against another game on ESPN, not a lot of the public got a chance to see what really happened.
Early in the game Rice was leading 7-0 and had the ball. On third down Rice QB Chase Clement threw a ball that was incomplete to a WR. When the WMU defender hit the receiver, his helmet came off and the flag flew. The penalty was a blow to the head, making it a first down as opposed to a three and out and a punt.
The replay clearly showed the Rice receiver's helmet wasn't fastened correctly and there wasn't a blow close to the head. This, of course, isn't reviewable. Rice went on to score, making it a double-digit lead, as opposed to Western Michigan getting the ball in what probably would have been good field position—about the impact of a first down on a third and long made by a circus catch, which they would probably still be taking a closer look at two weeks later.
While in the end it looked lopsided, this call changed the game, because as leads and deficits increase, game plans change. It is hard to tell if the result would have been anywhere near the same if the call was made correctly; these happen all the time.
There also seems to be no consistency with celebration penalties. I watch several games at a time on just about every Saturday, and I saw several occasions (starting in week one with the Bowling Green-Pitt game) where penalties were being called on tacklers making sacks and for players pounding their chests together, while on other channels the crowd went wild as Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell did the exact same move with no penalty.
We cannot leave a judgment call in the hands of people who are poor judges. We are talking people who need to review what happened two feet in front of them.
For those who watched the SEC Title Game, we were treated to one of the best games of the season. Once again the officials tried to sabotage it by calling a sideline penalty against Florida late in the game when they were on the Alabama one-yard line. While the Gators ended up scoring a TD anyway, in hindsight this judgment call could have decided this year's National Champion. It's pretty sad.
I wonder if they went to the replay to make sure it actually was a sideline infraction?
Visit Mitch anytime at The College Football Place.