Another excellent week of college football is in the books. We are down to FOUR undefeated teams. After a brief scare, Marshall kept rolling, Ole Miss and Bama looked, um, impressive, and Florida State seems to have cleared themselves a path to the Final Four.
Unfortunately, not all is sunshine and rainbows in CFB land. The single biggest topic of conversation after yesterday's action is the officiating, and how it may or may not have (it did) unjustly handed two top 5 programs their first losses of the season.
The stats from Baylor's 41-27 loss @ West Virginia are startling. West Virginia was called for 14 penalties for a total of 138 yards. This in itself would be enough to justify a second look at either the quality of officiating, level of play, or both. Not to be outdone, Baylor was called for 18 penalties resulting in 218 yards (!!) themselves. As Mark Seymour at Our Daily Bears points out, seven of these flags were for pass interference that resulted in Mountaineer points on 5 of the 7 drives.
Baylor's perfect season is over, and their chances at a coveted playoff spot took a very large hit Saturday in Morgantown. Their offensive line looked suspect, the offense was generally sluggish, and I'm sure some hangover-ish effect could be felt lingering after the 24 point comeback win last week against top ten TCU. But they were in the game in a hostile environment against a good WVU team. And they lost because on every crucial third down, on every red zone pass attempt, their secondary had one of two options:either give up a big play or breathe on Kevin White and earn a 15 yard penalty.
Eight hours later, Notre Dame's Everett Golson found Corey Robinson for a touchdown on 4th down from inside Florida State's 5 yard line. The Irish had stood toe to toe with the defending champs for 4 quarters, and the play completed an Irish comeback good enough to secure Golson and Robsins in Notre Dame lore forever. Except it didn't count, because as you can see, the two receivers lined up on the inside of Robinson obscured Seminole defensive backs on their way to.. where exactly? The was essentially over after the call. Irish lose, Seminoles win.
Kelly made his case to the media today - "(Fuller) did not go out of his way to impede the defender. The official that was furthest from the play thought different...It's a pretty common play in the NCAA...It's hard for me to put it all together."
Whether Kelly's comments come from sour grapes or not, it is true you will find similar routes run without notice at midfield in the third quarter throughout many games in America.
It is the inconsistency that drives that unjust feeling for the Irish and the Bears. Seymour points out in his analysis of the Baylor game that the Bears secondary is coached to play physical. They are at their best when fighting for the ball in the air, otherwise, they are at a clear disadvantage. Brian Kelly said in his presser that "We (Notre Dame) execute that play every day, and we do it legally. We don't coach illegal plays."
The players on the field have been coached to play a specific style of football. They have played this style of football throughout the season, and done so successfully. Then, under the brightest of lights, this style is deemed unacceptable and these successes are taken away.
Whether or not Baylor was actually committing penalties, or ND's rub route was technically an illegal play is not the point; the lack of uniformity across major college football officiating is. We've documented at length what these football games are financially worth to the conferences and universities. It has also been documented at length what the officials of major college football games earn - somewhere in the ballpark of $15,000 - $30,000 per year depending on experience and conference affiliation. The officiating market even demands NFL referees to take on full time careers outside their Sunday duties to support themselves and their families.
Connecting the dots isn't incredibly difficult here. Baylor was jobbed out of a 7-0 start because the NCAA and the Big XII allowed it to be so. The list of grievances against sub-par officiating is so long each weekend that they often go without notice. In addition to the two games that took place on a national stage, other victims include Cal / UCLA and Georgia State / S. Alabama, games that were littered with "What is happening right now?!" moments that cost teams possessions, points, and wins.
Humans make mistakes. Players commit penalties and officials miss offences and make wrong calls when they shouldn't. But the level of officiating must be consistent. Mike Pereira should not be waving a rule book on Fox Sports 1 during a football game.
The rules of football need to be just that - the rules. And if it takes more money, more time, more training, or more accountability for the game to be enforced uniformly across the board than so be it! Too much is at stake for National Championships to be decided by one man's interpretation.