It’s getting harder and harder to believe USC isn’t getting the raw end of the deal.
I’ll admit that through all of the proceedings and transgressions in the last year-and-a-half I’ve been quick to justify the NCAA and other groups’ treatment of the Trojans’ football program, trying to maintain a stance that the treatment is fair.
But in last Saturday’s game against Stanford, the officiating made it a lot more difficult to keep playing along.
To be clear, all we know is what USC coach Lane Kiffin told us: He said the sideline official assured him he’d be awarded a timeout if it was ruled that sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods’ knee was down inbounds with time left on the clock, but after the play was reviewed by head referee Michael Batlan, he wasn’t.
And if that is, in fact, what they told Kiffin, he’s justified in his complaint.
The NCAA rulebook reads that if the clock expires during a play in the second or fourth quarter, “If Team A has a timeout available, it may elect to use one and the clock will be adjusted to its reading at the time the runner should have been ruled down. If Team A elects not to use a timeout, the half or game is completed.”
According to Kiffin’s story, the officials should have honored the timeout after the review showed that Woods was down with one second remaining on the game clock.
It’s possible Kiffin isn’t giving us the whole story, but the problem is we’ll never know.
There’s a shocking lack of transparency with officiating crews, and one wonders why no one from that side of things came out to comment on the situation. Instead, the Pac-12 slapped Kiffin with a $10,000 fine to avoid broaching the subject.
Ordinarily, I’d be OK with the fine, because Kiffin did question the credibility of the officials.
But in this situation, in which a rule might have been misinterpreted, someone needs to defend the credibility of these officials because it’s legitimately in question.
In fact, there was another situation a few minutes earlier that raises further questions.
On the previous Stanford drive in which the Cardinal tied up the game, there was a run by tailback Stepfan Taylor that was reviewed by the officiating crew to determine the spot. Before the review took place, the clock trickled down to 3:18. The review showed his knee was down earlier on the play, at which point the clock read 3:33.
No time, however, was added back to the clock before the next play after the review. It stayed at 3:18.
Now, in that situation, the clock would have run from 3:33, so not all that time would have been preserved. But Stanford was running a hurry-up offense to get in to the end zone, so it’s no stretch to think it would have gotten a play off within 15 seconds after the spotting of the ball. And it ended up being a matter of one second. If the referees added time back to the clock here and things progressed as they did, USC probably would have been able to attempt that field goal.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott has done a great job running the conference so far, and he’s definitely the right man for the job, as evidenced by the conference’s latest TV deal. But what he must address now is making sure these officials aren’t harming the reputation of the conference.
These could have been honest mistakes. Maybe there’s nothing to complain about. But combined with the decision to suspend junior safety T.J. McDonald for one half of Friday’s game against Colorado for his supposedly late hit out of bounds in the fourth quarter against Stanford, it really seems as if somebody isn’t on USC’s side.
If Scott or a head of officials simply spoke to the media and explained the error or admitted a mistake, this could all go away. When you couple the power that these officials have to affect games with the protection of not having to account for their decisions, it’s going to raise questions about the fundamental fairness of the conference.
Let’s hear what they have to say.
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