Allow myself to (re)introduce ... myself.
Obviously you can see my name in the byline, but if you're a college football-only reader, chances are you have no idea what this particular column is all about. For the past two seasons, I have reviewed controversial (at least in the minds of the football public) calls in the NFL section of FanHouse. You can check out the archives by clicking here.
The rationale behind the series is this: I am in my 10th year of officiating high school football (yes, varsity). I constantly see people complaining about officials on message boards and comments sections across the Internet -- and that's OK. It's part of the job of officials to take criticism, even when it's not totally due. What I've found, however, is that most rational people are appreciative when they learn the actual nuances of how a game is called.
Am I qualified to officiate college football? Absolutely not. But neither are fans screaming at their TV every Saturday. The difference between me and the average fan is I know I'm not as good as the college officials, but I know what they are doing out there. I also have a collegiate rulebook, so we'll lean on that this season as we delve into specific plays. One advantage I have is I'm well-versed in the rules, but I'm not tied to the NCAA or any specific conference. So you don't have to worry about me toeing some company line.
Finally, I don't think these two items mean anything, but people seem to think they matter, so I'll note that I did play high school football and I went to Indiana University. You can draw whatever conclusions you want about any possible biases, but I can tell you right now my only initiative is to promote a better understanding of what it takes to officiate.
Now, onto some of the Week 1 plays that drew ire of the masses.
• Boise State appears to be called for a block in the back on its final punt return, but the flag is picked up.
At first glance, I was with the overwhelming majority of the viewers, as I thought it was a blatant block in the back. Upon the first slow-motion replay, however, I was worried the crew would carry through and make what would have been an incorrect call. The replays confirmed what the crew obviously discussed while deciding to pick up the flag: that it was a side-block. If an offensive player shoves a defensive player clearly on the side, it's not a block in the back.
Here's a trick: look at how the blocked player landed. Did you see it? He landed flat on his back. I'm not gonna get deep into physics here, but in order to land on your back, the majority of the force had to have come from the front.
• Virginia Tech is flagged for a late hit out of bounds on the BSU final drive.
I could have done without this one. Technically, the ruling was correct, as the Boise State player was out of bounds about five steps before contact, but I wonder if the defender actually knew this -- considering the circumstances of noise and how the ballcarrier was barely out and kept running. By letter of the law, however, the defensive players must know where the sidelines are, so the rule was correctly applied.
There was a similar play in the Missouri-Illinois game, but this one was more a question of timing. The quarterback was clearly going straight out of bounds and the defender lit him up. The announcer pointed out that the quarterback's back foot was still slightly in bounds when he was contacted, but that doesn't matter. The quarterback was clearly going out of bounds with no intent to stay in the play. Not only that, if one foot was in, the other one was already out. Again, the defensive players have to know where the sidelines are. They can't just hit defenseless players without regard for the boundaries.
• There was a pass interference call in the fourth quarter of the Pitt-Utah game that nearly caused Dave Wannstedt's mustache to fall of his face.
The Versus announcing crew didn't like the call, either. I believe it was absolutely the correct call. First, here's a passage from the rulebook: Defensive pass interference is contact beyond the neutral zone by a Team B player whose intent to impede an eligible opponent is obvious and it could prevent the opponent the opportunity of receiving a catchable forward pass. When in question, a legal forward pass is catchable.
In this case, I believe the Pitt defender obviously locked onto the defender and didn't stop pressing him, even as the ball sailed over both their heads. Sure, you can chuck a guy at the line, but the defender never stopped and, when the ball is in the air, you have to start playing the football. Speaking of which ...
It seems like some fans wanted a pass interference call against Boise on the final play of this week's big game. According to the rulebook, it is not interference: When two or more eligible players are making a simultaneous and bona fide attempt to reach, catch or bat the pass. Eligible players of either team have equal rights to the ball.
The Boise defender was playing the football, just as the Tech receiver was. Had the defender been looking at the receiver and not the ball, there might be a case for interference.
• I have absolutely no idea what the white hat (that's the referee, or the guy who announces the penalties) was doing in the Hawaii-USC game when he appeared to signal touchdown before spotting the ball on the half yard line.
I don't even think he could explain why he did it. Lost in the shuffle was the fact that it appeared to be a Hawaii touchdown, because the ballcarrier was on top of a USC defender and not down until I believe he broke the plane of the goal line with the football. Even after review, I still believe they got the call wrong.
• Jake Locker scored a touchdown against BYU where he only got one foot inside the pylon, but it was before any part of his body touched the ground out of bounds.
The announcers seemed to believe he needed to hold the ball inside the pylon, but that isn't true (and you'll find that many, many announcers have no idea what the rules are -- which only further creates misinformation about the rules to the masses). The goal-line extended principle says that as long as the ballcarrier gets a foot inside the pylon before anything else hits the ground of out of bounds, it is a touchdown -- assuming the ball has crossed the goal line extended (and it extends all around the world).
• This Week's Fallacy: "The ground can't cause a fumble."
While this is usually applied in cases when the ballcarrier's body hits the ground -- meaning he's down and cannot now fumble -- the statement itself is false. A good example nearly occurred in the Virginia Tech-Boise State game when Tyrod Taylor was escaping the pocket and put down his hand (with the ball) to keep himself off the ground. Think about this hypothetically: what if Taylor had lost control of the ball when it hit the ground? It would be a fumble, that's what. According to the rulebook, a player isn't down until a body part other than his hands or feet touches the ground, so Taylor wasn't down and the ground would have been the cause. Contrary to what Kirk Herbstreit (who is a superb announcer and knows the game as well as anyone in the field) said, the ball hitting the ground in this case would not kill the play.
The Zebra Report is an open, conversational forum. If you really want to discuss the legalities of certain plays, I guarantee I will answer your question or discuss your argument in the comments section below. If you want to name call or flex your high school Harry muscles, good luck getting a response.
For future weeks, please feel free to submit questions about the rules interpretations via e-mail: email@example.com. I promise an answer to every legitimate inquiry, even if I don't decide to use the e-mail in a column.
A final note: if you really think you'd be a good official, go for it. There's a significant shortage of officials across the country on the youth level up through high school. This isn't like playing, where you have to have a specific God-given physical talent. Anyone who is in relatively good shape and enjoys the sport can take part. If you would like to get into officiating and don't know where to start, e-mail me and I'll see what I can do.