Pat Haden's Outburst Compromises Integrity of College Football Playoff Committee

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2014

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When USC athletic director Pat Haden went on the field to argue with game officials Saturday in Palo Alto, he made it clear he should be taken off of the committee that will decide which four teams play for this year's national championship.

Haden's ridiculous decision to thrust himself onto center stage during the game—a 13-10 USC win at Stanford—also pulled the plug on the theory that he's the bright light who will lead Trojans athletics out of its self-inflicted dark ages.

But the worst part of Haden going onto the field during one of the Pac-12's premier games to argue a call is that he also seriously compromised the integrity of the College Football Playoff selection committee, of which he is a member.

If Haden can't exert enough self-control to let Pac-12 referees do their job during a Week 2 game, how can he be trusted to cast a fair and objective vote for this season's history-making playoff?

Going after the refs demonstrated that it's reasonable to suspect Haden can't put aside his biases and passions. If he can't control the hair trigger on his emotions in a packed stadium during a nationally televised game, how will he behave when the committee meets in private? If you were the coach of another Pac-12 team, would you trust him?

Sep 6, 2014; Stanford, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. USC defeated Stanford 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC coach Steve Sarkisian became upset when Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard was ejected for a hit on Stanford's Ty Montgomery on a kickoff.

For the record, ABC's Kirk Herbstreit referenced the hit on-air as a "textbook" example of targeting. Sarkisian's animated complaints led to an unsportsmanlike penalty on the coach, which is what inspired Haden's ill-fated decision to leave his press-box seat and head to the field.

Also for the record: Sarkisian flat-out admitted after the game that he deserved the unsportsmanlike penalty, because he was arguing while straying too far from the sideline.

As reported by Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, Sarkisian said: "Obviously I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect. You can't be in the white at any time, and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law I was incorrect."

For those who missed it, here's how Haden reacted just before the fourth quarter of USC's victory:

Athletic directors simply aren't supposed to attempt to sort out on-field controversies during play. As a former quarterback who played on two national championship teams at USC, Haden should know that.

The man also has a law degree, which, along with his Rhodes Scholarship, no doubt played a role in him being named to a committee that will be heavily scrutinized.


Haden won't be booted off the committee. CFP executive director Bill Hancock has issued a statement to that effect. 

George Schroeder @GeorgeSchroeder

CFP executive director Bill Hancock's statement on Pat Haden: http://t.co/1T4GSDHjPo

And the Pac-12 has decided a $25,000 fine will be punishment enough for Haden. 

Pac-12 Network @Pac12Network

The @pac12 has fined USC AD Pat Haden $25,000 for "inappropriate sideline conduct" Saturday: http://t.co/VmG8YYZSsB http://t.co/tgfPapBrsz

Haden had one chance to rescue the situation, but he managed to blow that as well.

After his fruitless argument with game officials ended, he was interviewed on the field by ABC and made no effort to apologize.

Instead, he explained he had received a text from a USC staff member saying Sarkisian wanted him to come on down. (And boy, wouldn't it be great if all of us could blame all of our transgressions on text messages that led us astray?)

Then Haden compounded that by making an untimely joke about how referees never give good explanations about their decisions.

Taking cheap shots at referees on national television won't help distance the USC football program from the recent fairy tale about defensive back Josh Shaw injuring himself while supposedly making like Superman and leaping from two stories up to rescue a drowning nephew.

And, having gone through a week of controversy regarding Shaw, one would think Haden would have been more protective than ever of USC's image on Saturday.

Apparently Haden didn't learn much from the Lane Kiffin years. And the sad thing is that his antics detracted from a memorable performance by USC's football team. The Trojans were outplayed in many respects by Stanford, yet they held on for a clutch road victory by virtue of repeated defensive stands in the red zone.

But that 13-10 survival probably isn't what will dominate conversations about USC athletics in the coming week.

Instead, the playoff committee figures to face pressure to oust Haden as one of the 13 people who will select the playoff teams. Haden is supposed to represent the Pac-12, but now it's reasonable to question whether he could give Stanford objective consideration if it wins out and gets in the hunt.

Would he sabotage Oregon if the Ducks lay claim to Pac-12 supremacy? And how can Haden possibly be expected to give fair consideration to crosstown rival UCLA if the Bruins are on the bubble for selection?

There's obvious concern, as is evidenced by this Sports Illustrated tweet about the reaction from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott:

Sports Illustrated @SInow

Pac-12 commish Larry Scott: League will look into Pat Haden sideline incident vs. Stanford http://t.co/7EmMbXrlwy …

And USA Today's Dan Wolken already has issued a call for Haden's resignation and adds that if Haden doesn't step down, "the 10 commissioners of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences should intervene and demand a change."

I totally agree. This is the first year of the four-team playoff, and the scrutiny of committee members will be akin to how the FBI treats suspected felons.

The playoff is a great thing for all of those followers of college football who have begged for a less-restrictive way to decide the national title, me included. Getting off to a fuzzy start is the last thing college football needs, and Haden should recognize that.

If he has trouble understanding that simple fact, perhaps we all can text him.


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.


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