The referee at the heart of the ASU-Wisconsin fiasco last week is a trial lawyer from Portland. He has been working Pac-12 football games for 31 years.
Among others, he was assisted by a middle school teacher from Casa Grande; an electrical contractor from Seattle; a chiropractor from Santa Maria, Calif.; a logistics executive from Ogden, Utah; and the principal of a tiny elementary school in Talent, Ore.
Could you possibly assemble a more diverse and impartial group of college referees?
How good are they? Two of them worked last season’s Alabama versus Notre Dame national championship game.
But they messed up on Saturday, denying Wisconsin a chance to kick a winning field goal as the game expired. The refs were not saved by a TV replay, but rather condemned by it.
Badger fans cried for justice. Others, who recall similar officiating gaffes, most notably an infamous Oregon rally to beat Oklahoma in 2006, and a grievous excessive-celebration call that cost Washington a chance to beat BYU in 2008, suggest that the Pac-12 is bush league.
The league’s commissioner, Larry Scott, conducted an investigation, reprimanded those involved and vowed to do better.
That’s football. It’ll happen again and again and again, no matter how forthright and capable the referees, side judges, field judges and umpires may be.
The game moves too quickly, with too many moving parts and too many juggling-catches, tiptoe-down-the-sideline sprints and obscured views. Even freeze-frame studies of these plays sometimes stump the on-site replay official.
It is a football miracle that Arizona has been involved in just four we-got-robbed, call-the-commissioner finishes in its 35 seasons in the Pac-12. It’s fascinating that all four games changed the course of a team’s program and redirected a coach’s life.
Here’s the roll-call:
1. USC 17, Arizona 14, at Los Angeles, 1984: Tight end Gary Parrish caught what appeared to be a game-changing 3-yard touchdown pass with 9:38 remaining. After securing the ball, Parrish was jarred by two players; another Trojan, Tommy Haynes, then grabbed the ball away from Parrish. Now TV replays would determine the final call; then, it was ruled an interception.
Instead of leading 20-14, Arizona fumbled. The Trojans won.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t see me right after the game,” Arizona coach Larry Smith said. “It’s a good thing they have a 10-minute cooling off period.”
Smith famously said that Pac-12 coaches officially reviewed the referees after game, ranking their performance on a one-to-five scale, with five being worst.
“As I left the field,” he said, “I ran up to the head guy and held up five fingers.”
Lasting impact: The Trojans won the league title by a half-game over Washington.
2. Washington 35, Arizona 32, Seattle, 2000. Leading 32-28 with 1:48 remaining, Arizona defensive end Joe Tafoya sacked UW quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo at the UA 20, giving the Huskies an apparent fourth-and-18.
But moments after the players hit the ground, a referee tossed a flag, ruling a facemask violation on Tafoya. The Huskies were given the ball at the 6-yard line and scored with 1:10 remaining.
TV replays showed that the back of Tafoya’s hand may have brushed Tuiasosopo’s facemask, but that it was a clean tackle.
“When I saw the flag, I thought it was on Washington,” said Tafoya.
Lasting impact: UA coach Dick Tomey was fired three weeks later. Washington went to the Rose Bowl in a tie-breaker over Oregon State.
3. Oregon 10, Arizona 9, Autzen Stadium, 1994. Leading the Ducks 9-3 late in the fourth quarter, Arizona forced the Ducks into a fourth-and-5 at their 27.
UA safety Mike Scurlock broke up the fourth-down pass, apparently giving the Wildcats possession. But an official threw a flag, calling Scurlock for pass interference. Oregon was given a first down at Arizona’s 16, and scored two plays later.
“They hadn’t been effective moving the ball on us all day,” said Tomey. “When you get a call like that, it can change the whole game.”
Lasting impact: The Rose Bowl-bound Ducks finished 7-1 in conference play to win the title by a game over Arizona’s 6-2, launching Oregon’s dynamic era of football.
4. Arizona 23, Utah 17, Tucson, 2002. With 38 seconds left, Utah’s Josh Lyman caught an apparent touchdown pass to tie the game. But officials ruled that he stepped out of the end zone. TV replays proved it was a legit catch that should’ve tied the game, giving Utah a chance to kick an extra point and win 24-23.
Utah coach Ron McBride fumed.
“It’s not right,” he said. “It’s the worst call I’ve seen in 40 years of coaching.”
Lasting impact: McBride was fired at year’s end after the Utes lost five games by a touchdown or less.
A referee has never fired a coach or sent a team to the Rose Bowl. But to survive in college football, especially at Arizona, you’ve got to have a flag fall your way every now and then.