Screwed in Stillwater

If you haven’t seen the ending of yesterday’s Central Michigan-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater, you need to seriously watch it.

To recap: on what looked to be the final play of the game, Cowboy quarterback Mason Rudolph took a snap from under center, retreated a couple of steps, and threw the ball towards Oklahoma State’s sideline. The clock ran out while the ball was in the air, with the Cowboys leading 27-24. Game over, right?

Not quite.

The eight officials from the Mid-America Conference, of which Central Michigan is a member, huddled after the throw. When the huddle broke, referee Tim O’Dey threw a flag. He called Rudolph for intentional grounding, which is penalized at the spot of the foul with a loss of down.

Under most circumstances, if a penalty is accepted after time runs out in a period, an “untimed down” is played. There was a 1986 game between Ohio State and Alabama where Crimson Tide linebacker Derrick Thomas–yes, THAT Derrick Thomas–committed pass interference on consecutive Hail Mary passes by Buckeye quarterback Jim Karsatos. Alabama survived a third Hail Mary attempt and won 16-10, but I’m sure then-Tide coach Ray Perkins had a bad case of heartburn.

However, in yesterday’s game in Stillwater, the game should have ended despite Rudolph being flagged for grounding.

In the NCAA rule book, there is an exception to the untimed down rule. Here it is:

A penalty is accepted for a live-ball foul(s) (Exception: Rule
10-2-5-a). The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in
possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down
(A.R. 3-2-3-VIII).

There you have it. Oklahoma State should have left Boone-Pickens Stadium 2-0.

However, O’Dey and the other seven officials did not know this rule, and gave Central Michigan an untimed down.

Chippewa QB Carson Rush threw the ball as far as he could, but it only reached the 12-yard line. Jesse Kroll made a leaping catch in front of three Cowboy defenders. Kroll alertly pitched the ball back to Corey Willis before he was down. Willis took the ball on the run and cut from the right side all the way across the field, and stuck the ball over the goal line as he was being tackled. The play was reviewed, and it was ruled Willis did break the plane before his knee was down–I might have ruled differently if I were in the replay booth–and Central Michigan was a 30-27 winner.

While the play was being reviewed, Fox Sports football rules analyst Mike Pereia, a former college and NFL official and former NFL Vice President of Officiating, told announcers Justin Kutcher and Petros Papadakis the play should not have been run. He read the rule on air and stressed the Chippewas had won on an ill-begotten play.

Sadly, there is nothing Oklahoma State can do. The NCAA rules clearly state once the game is over, it is truly over and the score is final. This is not Major League Baseball (or college baseball), where a team can protest over a misapplied rule, and the game would revert to the point where the rule was misapplied. The NBA has the same mechanism in its rules.

The only avenue would be for Oklahoma State to ask Central Michigan to forfeit the game. No way that happens. No way the Chippewas are giving back their biggest win in 25 years, and one of the biggest since joining Division I in 1975.

It is utterly incomprehensible none of the eight officials knew the rule. No matter what level of football one officiates–Pop Warner, junior high, high school, college, professional–it is your JOB to know the rule book. How could eight men who are officiating at the highest level of college football not know that rule?

It’s my hope those eight men never see a college football field again. If the MAC does not fire this incompetent octet, then shame on them.

I understand most college football officials have Monday-Friday jobs, families and concerns above a Saturday game involving 18-22 year olds. Then again, if you earn the privilege of officiating at the highest level of the sport in college, and the second highest level of the sport in the world after the NFL, you have to know the rules. Period. No excuse.

The replay officials, who were from the Big 12, also deserve some blame. They had the ability to stop the game and alert the on-field officials to the rule. At the very least, they should have held up the game after Rudolph’s final pass and explained to O’Dey and his crew the game should have been over at that point.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took the blame for calling the play which resulted in the grounding penalty. All Rudolph had to do was get outside the tackle box and throw it. Or he could have run backwards until the clock ran out. Or Gundy could have lined up the punt team and had the punter take the snap and run out of the end zone. So what if it negatively impacts your final rushing total?

Yes, it was not the best call by Gundy. However, these officials screwed up royally. There is no plausible explanation for that.

Tulane and Missouri know how bad it feels for officials to screw up.

In games played 18 years apart, the Green Wave and Tigers fell victim to an opponent being awarded a fifth down.

Tulane lost 24-21 to Miami in the Orange Bowl on October 14, 1972 when the Hurricanes used a fifth down to keep a drive alive. Miami eventually scored the winning touchdown in the final minute. The loss probably cost Bennie Ellender’s Green Wave a bowl bid. Tulane would have been 7-4 if it had won, and would have been attractive to the Liberty Bowl, which took a 5-5-1 Iowa State squad to play Georgia Tech.

On October 6, 1990, Colorado received a fifth down, which it used to score the winning touchdown to pull out a 33-31 victory over Missouri in Columbia. It seemed like numerous people inside Faurot Field, including a few Colorado players, knew the Buffaloes received an extra down, but coach Bill McCartney wasn’t buying it, and of course gleefully accepted the win.

After the game, McCartney put his foot in his mouth by blasting Missouri–his alma mater–for installing Omniturf in the stadium in 1985. Omniturf was a sand-based artificial turf which needed to be watered down for better traction. It worked fine for Oregon and Washington State, which are in the rainy Pacific Northwest, but it was not a good fit for Missouri.

Colorado went on to win a share of the 1990 national championship thanks to the fifth down.

September 10, 2016 will join October 14, 1972 and October 6, 1990 as black eyes for college football officiating. And that’s bad for football, period.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on September 11, 2016, in College Football, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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