photo credit Lisa Horne
by Lisa Horne
Pasadena, Calif—On a beautiful, warm Saturday in Southern California, UCLA hosted Oregon in a pivotal conference match-up at the Rose Bowl. There was also some heat in the media lunchroom when Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott answered some questions from the media during the half. The Oregonian's Molly Blue has the video posted here.
I brought up to Scott that Bruin defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes appeared to have punched Oregon running back Thomas Tyner at the end of a second quarter play. A flag was thrown but Vanderdoes was not ejected. Obviously, Scott knew where the conversation was going: the state of Pac-12 officiating.
The Daily News' Jack Wang picked up the Vanderdoes incident post game:
Mora said an official walked over to him and told him about Vanderdoes’ punch soon after the play. Mora said the official did not explain why Vanderdoes was not ejected.
Asked if Vanderdoes will face additional discipline, Mora added: “I would not think so. He didn’t get penalized (after the initial flag). We handled it in-house."
Scott said "it's definitely something we'll review" on Monday or Tuesday but added that "we don't review infractions" unless there is a potential "fighting act" involved. Maybe that is why Pac-12 officiating has become a national punch line. The conference's suits are not aware of the non-fighting fouls that are ruining the game's flow and credibility.
A week of exciting finishes was mired by questionable calls and no-calls.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon initially appeared to have crossed the line of scrimmage before passing the ball against USC on Saturday. Solomon was flagged for an illegal forward pass which was a five-yard penalty. The call was reviewed in the booth and overturned, which was the correct thing to do. But the referee then assessed USC with a roughing-the-passer penalty, which was not originally called, albeit should have. Could the bad optics get any worse?
In the same game, an Arizona player signaled for a fair catch on a fourth-quarter punt but his teammate fielded the ball—the player who had signaled fair catch then became a blocker. USC was called for fair kick-catch interference even though he appeared to have been blocked into the receiver.
In the Washington State-Stanford game, officials were calling a loose game in regards to contact allowed between receivers and defensive backs. In the fourth quarter, they called pass interference on Stanford for the exact contact that they had allowed in the previous three quarters.
Those are but a few of the calls this week that embarrassed the league. But according to Scott, "we've got really high standards."
"If you ask most people in our conference, whether it's athletic directors [or] coaches, certainly from my perspective, there [have] been a lot of improvements," Scott said.
The coaches and athletic directors may be telling Scott that there have been improvements, but are they thinking that privately?
Both Sarkisian and Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre have been reprimanded by the league for "inappropriate conduct" resulting from officiating controversies. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden and MacIntyre have also been fined this season. According to Los Angeles Times' reporter Gary Klein, USC has been fined $60,000 "since 2011 for violations pertaining to football situations."
One of the more infamous Pac-12 officiating blunders happened in 2011 when Stanford and USC were in overtime. Stanford's offense was facing a second-and-5 but was called for holding at the 20-yard line. The ball should have been spotted at the 30 but the officials instead spotted the ball after Tyler Gaffney's 8-yard gain to the 22. Making matters worse, the Cardinal had a second-and-7 instead of a second-and-15. Then-head coach Lane Kiffin berated officials after the game and was slapped with a $10,000 fine.
Has the Pac-12 officiating really improved since then-coordinator of officiating Mike Pereira cleaned house and made sweeping changes several years ago? Initially, things looked better, but now it is back to DEFCON 1.
Scott admitted that he looks for "constant improvement" and that the league does "grade officials [after] every game" but what exactly does that mean? Where is the accountability?
Eight of the 28 most penalized teams in the country reside in the Pac-12. Perhaps these officials are suffering from the same syndrome that afflicts certain officers in police cruisers. You know the type. They tail a car for miles waiting for the nervous driver to make a mistake and then throw the book at him. Many fans believe the Pac-12 officiating is overkill—they may be on to something but their displeasure with the officials is not Scott's concern.
"I don't run the officiating program based on what the fans think," Scott said.
His unwavering position is admirable but today's fans are more football savvy than ever. They also have access to instant replays via their smart phones. They don't have to wait until Monday to know when a bad call has been made.
Nevertheless, Scott ticked off the improvements the league has made. "We've changed coordinators twice" he noted. Scott also mentioned the amount of money spent on technology.
"Generally speaking, I feel good about the direction of the [officiating] program," Scott said with a smile. He then added, "far from perfect."
Fans do not expect perfection. They do expect competency. If the league's officiating continues on its present course, a Pac-12 team will struggle to make the College Football Playoff. Stanford's loss at Notre Dame illustrates this point.
A Pac-12 official ruled an Everett Golson pass to Corey Robinson was complete. Video replay showed that the ball appeared to hit the ground. That completion kept the Fighting Irish's eventual game-winning drive alive. That completion sealed Stanford's second loss.
The Pac-12 is a better conference because of Scott. He is well-respected because of his innovation and vision. He's also willing to change a course of action if it doesn't work out.
While some of his actions convey a willingness to change when something fails, his hunky-dory, smiling demeanor at the Rose Bowl projected a lack of concern about the league's officiating.
Maybe Scott just doesn't want to let the media see him sweat. But while his veins are ice cold, he needs to blaze a new path.
College football officials can make up to $3,000 per game, according to the New York Times. That's pretty good pay for three months of work but the value of competent officiating is probably worth more. A lot more if a College Football Playoff berth is on the line.
College football is a business. Big business demands accountability at the highest level. Spending big money on technology is wonderful but if the officials aren't using it to improve, it's nothing more than lipstick on a pig.
The Pac-12 needs to make officiating a full-time job with full benefits. These officials need to make enough money so that supplemental income is not a consideration from August to January.
Overhauling the pay structure of Pac-12 officials will encourage the very best to want to work in this conference. It will also give the league more credibility when it says it has the highest standards.
The officiating mess in the Pac-12 has been newsworthy, especially with the resignation of coordinator Tony Corrente last week. In his column, FOXSports' Mike Pereira acknowledged some recent controversial calls but he also put some of the blame on Scott. There is discord in the Pac-12.
Scott was the highest-paid college conference commissioner in 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal. Scott's compensation surpassed $3 million. He can thank the fans for that $1,376,000 bonus—they bought the tickets, went to the games or watched them on television.
Scott technically doesn't owe the fans anything. But competent officiating and a deal with Direct TV will not only make for a happier fan base, but a fatter wallet.
It's a win-win for Scott.