Arizona State-Wisconsin Blown-Call Fallout Should Bring Pac-12 Changes
Pac-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott issued a public apology to head coach Gary Andersen for the bungled final seconds of what was otherwise a classic college football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Arizona State Sun Devils. The Jack Folliard-led officiating crew overseeing the bizarre final seconds was reprimanded.
"After a thorough review, we have determined that the officials fell short of the high standard in which Pac-12 games should be managed," Scott said in an official statement via Pac-12.com. "We will continue to work with all our officials to ensure this type of situation never occurs again."
As Arizona State head coach Todd Graham noted in his press conference Monday, “You win or you lose.”
His Sun Devils won. An apology and reprimand of the officials doesn’t allow Wisconsin to return to Tempe and attempt the chip-shot field goal it had lined up. Thus, the Badgers still lost despite Scott's public recognition of officiating failure.
The outcome may have been no different otherwise, but the Pac-12 could have emerged without the latest black-and-white-striped bruise on its reputation.
Scott's apology wasn't just warranted, but necessary to salvage as much of the smoldering wreckage as possible that was left behind in Tempe on Saturday. Still, Scott acknowledging the failures of the officials does not change a lingering perception hurting the overall Pac-12 football product.
Graham said during his press conference Monday that there's "a human element" that goes into the game. The human element factored against the Sun Devils moments prior to the mismanaged final seconds, as Badger wideout Jeff Duckworth was impossibly close to the sideline on a 51-yard gain.
However, while the officials reviewed that play, Wisconsin received no such diligence later on, as the crew instead ran off the field.
The human element is and should always be part of the game, but eliminating the egregious human errors should be a top priority for Scott.
Officiating is millstone weighing down the entire conference. Three of the last four seasons, the Pac-12 has had the single most penalized team in college football.
While that could be construed as an indictment of individual programs—Arizona State held that dubious distinction twice under Dennis Erickson—consider the conference had six of the nation's 20 most penalized teams in 2012, and five of the 10 most penalized.
That Pac-12 crews are often so flag-happy makes Saturday's indecision especially perplexing.
When quarterback Joel Stave's setting of the ball was not ruled a fumble (evident in the excruciatingly slow process of allowing Wisconsin to line back up), ASU linebacker Anthony Jones was guilty of delay of game by default. We've established Pac-12 officials' penchant for tossing yellow laundry.
Jones was nearly himself a victim of the crew's indecision. The “lack of urgency,” as the official Pac-12 statement describes it, failed to indicate whether Stave was down. The same Inspector Clouseau-like obliviousness that prevented Wisconsin from lining up prompted the Sun Devil to jump on the ball. Had he been flagged for delay of game, it would have rendered an already close field goal attempt more akin to an extra point attempt.
But then again, how was Jones to know? As Graham said in his press conference, he “was hollering to jump on the ball.”
Both teams were put in position to be negatively affected by something out of their control.
This could be—should be—the catalyst that affects sweeping change to Pac-12 officiating. When the conference's officiating problem impacts the overall landscape of college football, it casts a glaring spotlight that should impact change.
Both Arizona State and Wisconsin entered this season with realistic BCS ambitions. Obviously Saturday’s outcome has no bearing on either within their own leagues, but certainly affects at-large standing. Those final seconds can mean the difference between a Fiesta and Holiday or Gator Bowl.
Wisconsin deserves better. The Badgers came into the hostile environment of Sun Devil Stadium and gave a very good Arizona State team all it could handle.
Running back Melvin Gordon played a game for the ages with 193 yards rushing on just 15 carries. His performance shouldn't be a footnote.
Arizona State deserves the better. Arguably the biggest win of Graham’s tenure should be remembered for Marion Grice’s four touchdown rushes, or linebacker Carl Bradford’s gutsy leadership—and not for blown calls.
The forthcoming College Football Playoff likely means stiffer scheduling across the power conferences; thus more games the caliber of Arizona State-Wisconsin. Unless the Pac-12 gets its officiating house in order though, who is going to want to come out West?
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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