Photo via EOG.com
Q: How long does it take a Pac-12 officiating crew to count to 12?
A: Five minutes and one second.
No, that is not a joke. it is a fact.
With 4:01 remaining in the second quarter of a pivotal game between Arizona and USC, Trojan head coach Clay Helton had to call a timeout to challenge a non-call of illegal substitution.
The booth reviewed the play— all that was required was a head count of Arizona players on the field when the ball was snapped. Five minutes later, they determined that Arizona had too many players on the field. The referee then threw a flag.
This took five minutes.
Five minutes is an eternity. And it stops momentum.
Naturally, USC quarterback Sam Darnold threw an interception once play resumed.
The lunacy continued.
Early in the third quarter, Trojan defenders Ajene Harris and Jack Jones were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after mildly celebrating a great defensive play. A few plays later, Wildcat receiver J.J. Taylor clearly stepped out of bounds before making a beautiful catch. The officials did not call the play incomplete, despite Taylor's feet being so close to the sideline. A last-second review stopped the Wildcats from getting the next play off and the catch was ruled incomplete.
A scoop-and-score by Jones was negated by officials who prematurely blew the play dead. Instant replay showed Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate had fumbled the ball, Jones had recovered the ball and scored a touchdown.
Instead of USC putting six points on the board, Helton, who was losing his mind on the sideline, was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
A targeting call on Arizona was clearly not targeting, but the review took the air out of the Coliseum.
"This game has grinded to a halt," an ESPN color commentator noted.
The review booth reversed the call and Helton sarcastically clapped in agreement.
Late in the third quarter, repeated huddles by the officials for unknown reasons were time-consuming to the point of ridiculousness. During one such caucus, there was no laundry on the field, but they were discussing something of apparent importance.
How bad was the officiating?
USC fans started throwing yellow towels—not the prerequisite beach balls—into the air after the officials took over the game.
In the third quarter alone, seven flags were thrown.
USC hung on to beat Arizona 49-35. The Trojans were flagged 14 times for 123 penalty yards. Arizona was flagged three times for 32 yards.
Officials will argue if a foul occurs, it must be called. No one is debating this—most of the fouls were called correctly in the USC-Arizona game. What is being debated is how Pac-12 officials appear to be actively looking for the minutest of fouls to be called.
According to the latest statistics, the Pac-12 is among the most egregious when it comes to committing fouls. Five of the 25 most penalized FBS teams are from the Pac-12: USC, Oregon State, Utah, UCLA and Oregon.
Interestingly, Arizona State is one of the most disciplined teams in the country. In three games this season, the Sun Devils committed a combined three fouls. Against USC on October 28, they committed 10.
Something is wrong. Very wrong.
Three years ago, Tony Corrente, the Pac-12's Coordinator of Football Officiating, resigned. Criticism and controversy surrounding the officiating were rampant. Change was promised.
Nothing has changed. Social Media is documenting it for all to see.
Hashtag #Pac12Refs is seemingly a weekly trend on Twitter.
Retired Pac-12 referee Jay Stricherz's Twitter account @GlassesRef teases fans with self-deprecating humor which is funny, but it is also a pungent reminder of the frustrating calls made by this league's officials.
FOXSports broadcaster Colin Cowherd has become a vocal critic of the league's officiating. On Saturday Cowherd tweeted a jab at the crew who officiated the USC-Arizona game.
The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC do not have the same ugly spotlight on their officiating crews as does the Pac-12, although the ACC's crews are starting to gain some traction. The Pac-12 stands alone, tarnished reputation firmly in place.
Perhaps a big game will finally bring to head all that is wrong with Pac-12 officiating.
According to the College Football Playoff rules, bowl games demand neutral officiating crews. Officials selected for the College Football Playoffs shall work in games where their own conference's team is not participating. Last season's championship game between Alabama (SEC) and Clemson (ACC) featured a Big 12 crew.
Right now, it looks highly unlikely that a Pac-12 team will be invited to the playoffs or the championship game. That means its officiating crew will have an excellent chance of officiating the championship game in January.
Have fun with that, boys and girls.