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Laws and Rules of Football: The Oklahoma - Oregon Football Officiating Debacle

In football, the judges are the officials. How big is their impact? Who truly decides football games - the players, the coaches, or the officials?

As Bob's Blog writes (we use Bob since he is avowedly not an Oklahoma Sooner fan):

"The refs missed a tipped pass that resulted in an interference penalty against Oklahoma, and both the refs and the replay officials somehow missed the onside kick that was touched by Oregon before the ball traveled the mandatory 10 yards.

Yet the moment that brings in the ghosts of the Chicago Black Sox and Dick Bavetta: How could the refs not see the onside kick squirt through the pile, past the bodies, before being picked up by an Oklahoma player?

When the OU player handed the football to a ref, who was deep into the process of rewarding possession to the Ducks, comedy mixed with the incompetence
."

The Pac 10 conference insists that THEIR referees officiate home non-conference games, contrary to the practice elsewhere, where the visiting team's conference supplies the referees. A sceptic might ask, "Is that a part of the "West Coast" offense"?

A study some years ago, I think it was at Princeton University, showed that students of two opposing universities, called to referee videos of a football game between their respective universities, in fact each called disputed plays 2/3 in favor of THEIR own favored team, even though they had sworn to call the game in an unbiased manner. The students did not favor their own college intentionally, but afterwards claimed subjectively that they had called the plays as they saw them, i.e. fairly and impartially, which of course was not the case when objectively viewed.

Similarly, an Oregon official officiating an Oregon game is going to be no different in the subliminal effects of allegiance to his State than students to their universities.
One literally does not see what one does not want to see.

We post about this all the time on our various blogs and websites concerning the blindness and closed-mindedness of mainstream science and scholarship. We can compare many average scientists and scholars to the blind replay official in the Oklahoma - Oregon football game. Similarly, an allegedly unbiased "conference referee" has the same subliminal recognition problems that plague eyewitnesses in eyewitness identification or that are visible among relatives of persons accused of crimes. See here and here.

But yes, the refs do make a big difference in football games. Attorney Tom Kirkendall writes in his blog Houston's Clear Thinkers:

"In this interesting NY Times article, Schatz takes on an issue in regard to NFL games that the NFL hierarchy does not enjoy talking about -- that is, the wide discrepancy in the number of penalties called in NFL games between the various referee crews that call such games....

The NFL promotes the image that its games are decided on the field by the players and their coaches. But Schatz's research is indicating that who referees a particular game may be as big a factor as the participants."

Based on the recent Oklahoma - Oregon football officiating debacle and its aftermath, described more in detail below, we recommend four changes that need to be made in college football:

1) So-called "conference referees" should not be officiating home non-conference games of teams in their conference - rather, it should be the other way around, as it generally is in other football leagues.

2) The stupid onside kick should be removed as a play option as contrary to the spirit of the game - the whole idea of "fairness" after a score by one team is that the other team gets possession of the ball to give its offense a go, and this should then be reflected by actual possession of the ball and not the rule currently in vogue that the kickoff merely has to travel a mere 10 yards and then be open for a free-for-all for both teams to claim - it is a stupid rule and it gets stupid results. Football is reduced to pot-luck rather than skill.

3) When such clearly faulty replay officiating - in spite of the clear evidence of the video - results in the game winner being changed, the game should be declared null and void and replayed later in the season, and that is what should be done with the Oklahoma-Oregon game, which will otherwise haunt the BCS bowl selections clear through this season, to the detriment of all college football. With the Oklahoma-Oregon game unvoided, the football season will have a terrible taint, which it does not deserve, as being a serendipity affair decided by poor officiating.

4) Replay officials should be anonymous to the public, so that they can conduct their work professionally and change calls if warranted by video replays, without incurring the wrath of the public or, as has happened in this case, without the fear of threatening phone calls.

In the present case, the referees did not make these erroneous calls intentionally.
Rather it was perhaps the subliminal effect of allegiance at work.

Bud Withers at the Seattle Times in Blown calls stoke Pac-10 firestorm generally discusses the controversy involved. The calls were so bad that the Pac-10 has suspended the officials involved for one game. As written by Jack Carey and Thomas O'Toole at USA TODAY, in an action taken apparently in response to a letter written by the President of the University of Oklahoma to the Big 12 Conference Commissioner:

"The fallout from controversial officiating and instant replay decisions in Saturday's college football game between Oklahoma and Oregon continued Monday when the Pacific-10 Conference suspended for one game the field officials and instant replay crew and apologized to the Sooners."

But of course, Oregon can still laugh all the way to the bank with that kind of an ineffectual penalty, which accomplishes nothing. No one should be penalized, rather, incorrect practices have to be revised and incorrect results have to be voided. The required solutions are clear.

The Associated Press in Dispute with Pac-10 could affect Oklahoma-Washington series writes:

"Oklahoma would consider canceling its game at Washington in 2008 if the Pacific 10 Conference doesn't change its rule requiring league officials to be used at its home stadiums, Sooners coach Bob Stoops said today.

The Sooners lost 34-33 at Oregon on Saturday, and Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen has since said that two incorrect calls by the league's officials on Oregon's behalf changed the outcome of the game.
"

As written by Wendell Barnhouse at the Mercury News of McClatchy Newspapers (San Francisco, Bay Area, Silicon Valley) in Oklahoma-Oregon mess shows a major need for change:

"Saturday's travesty in Autzen Stadium pointed out several flaws in how the sport's whistle-blowing flag throwers are managed. Each of the 11 Division I-A conferences supervises its own officiating crews. The officials are assigned and evaluated by the league offices.

That means the officials are branded as "Big 12 refs" or "Mountain West refs." Also, each conference evaluates its officials differently. The Big 12, for instance, charts every play and penalty called in every game worked by its referees. Each week, every Big 12 official receives a DVD showing the good, the bad and the uncalled.

The Oklahoma-Oregon game was officiated by a Pac-10 crew. Typically in non-conference games, the visiting team uses officials from its own conference. That provides the visiting team with a subliminal security blanket.

The Pac-10, though, doesn't play by those rules. In non-conference games, its officials work home games, and, when Pac-10 teams go on the road, the home team's conference refs work the game
."

The amazing thing is that not only was the replay incorrectly called by the referees - the replay clearly shows that an Oregon player touched the ball before it went 10 yards on the onside kick - but it was not Oregon but an Oklahoma player who actually recovered the ball, and yet, the refs awarded the ball to Oregon: see Football Outsiders and the many reader comments to the Oklahoma - Oregon debacle and related topics.

An interesting somewhat sceptical posting on the Oklahoma-Oregon debacle is in our opinion found at the blog Coffee Swirls in the category Spiritual Growth & Football, from which we excerpt the following:

"What I do want to talk about is the travesty that was the ending of the Oklahoma/Oregon game. You may have seen this game that will forever go down in infamy. If not, consider yourself fortunate....

Toward the end of the game, Oregon was attempting an onside kick. By rule, the ball must travel ten yards before a player of the kicking team can touch it. Nobody bothered to tell this to the Ducks and somebody must have forgotten to explain this to the referees, because even after the instant replay, they let the play stand, though the ball did not go that far before being touched by an Oregon player. Why have rules if they are not to be enforced? And why have referees if they can’t tell when a ball has gone ten yards, even with slow motion playback? Oregon ball.

As the Ducks mounted their comeback, there was a play when the quarterback threw the ball and it was tipped by a defensive lineman. How do I know this? Because it changed direction and went from a spiral to a wobbly throw. I don’t care how good your curveball is, footballs do not change direction or motion in flight unless they are acted upon by an outside force, such as a defensive lineman getting his hands up. Down the field, a Sooner defensive player hit a Duck before that same ball got to him and was called for pass interference. That would have been a fine call, except for the fact that the ball was touched at the line of scrimmage. Instant replay was not able to provide “conclusive evidence” that the ball had been tipped and the call stood. Oregon ended up scoring and Oklahoma couldn’t score again. The home team got the win that they never should have had.


That’s kind of how it works in this world of ours. Rules and laws are meant to be broken, just so long as some minor detail can’t be discerned by one with no discernment. And sometimes, the one with the least discernment is the only one who’s opinion matters in the question of how the result will be listed. Atrocities are committed according to the letter of the law no matter how ridiculous the determined result looks on paper. Perhaps the referee couldn’t see clearly that the ball was tipped, but he could easily see the result of a tipped ball as the motion and direction of the ball was changed. "

For other voices on this topic, see:

Ducks Blog
Huskies Football
Tuxi's Blog (very fair and balanced posting from an Oklahoma Sooner alumnus)
Sports Column Blog
The Wizard of Odds
Yahoo! Answers
Mann's Sporting Blog at SportingNews
Referee Chat Blog
AOL Sports Blog

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