Monday, October 1, 2012

Upon Further Review

Did you watch the end of the Nebraska-Wisconsin game on Saturday night?

Nebraska took the lead 30-27 in the fourth quarter.  On their last possession, the Badgers were driving and came up with a 3rd and 11.  O'Brien (the QB, not the coach) completed a pass to Frederick but on camera he appeared to be short of the first down by a good yard.  The refs--those near and dear and lovable Big Ten zebras of honor--spotted the ball a yard further.  The spot was so clearly botched I was having flashbacks to Ann Arbor in 2005.

Now this may seem innocuous, but the circumstances were really more bizarre and nefarious than that.  The line judge, who improperly spotted the ball, signalled to move the chains without a measurement and without the head referee signalling for a first down.  No one else even looked at the spot as the chain gang moved on.  Remember, they can't see the unofficial yellow line on the field that we see.

It was only after a review, that it was confirmed that the ball had not been spotted properly, and this brought up a fourth and one situation.  Late in the game with time running out, the Badgers elected to go for it, fumbled, and the rest, shall we say, is history.

But I ask you?  How is that these competent referees mis-spot a ball by a yard?

And why, in a crucial situation, even with the added yardage, when the spot was still close enough to demand a measurement, would you move the flags before such a measurement?  Obviously, the Badgers wanted to save time because the clock was running down (1:11 when Nebraska took over after the fumble). . . so why not stop the clock and check the measurement?

It truly appeared as if the refs, or at least the one spotting the ball and moving the chains in a damned big hurry, was intent on helping Wisconsin.  Why else would you not measure if your real desire is to get the correct call?

Even more astonishing to me, though, is that the ref in the video replay booth chose to stop play and review it.  (He probably had to at that point since the spot was so ridiculously wrong.)  Had he not done that, the Badgers would have had a first down, and the next play likely wouldn't have been a handoff, botched or otherwise, to Montee Ball.  The outcome of that game could have been different without replay.  If the fix was on to help the Badgers, the replay booth botched the opportunity, so that argues against a conspiracy.  But how many refs does it take to conspire???  If I were in charge of officiating, I think punitive action against the ref on the field moving the chains prematurely would be in order.

I bring this up because of that 2005 debacle in Ann Arbor.  I'm sure I still have the tape around here somewhere collecting dust.  While everyone remembers the heel-toe controversy and the infamous two seconds, most people don't recall the multiple favorable spots the wolverines got all game long.  And for the record, the heel-toe should have been reviewed, but perhaps not over turned.  You might wonder why that is important, but it would have stopped play and allowed our defense to rest and regroup while a legitimately close play was re-evaluated.  Lord, we added four extra minutes to Saturday's game to review QB sneaks where you couldn't even see the ball on the replay!

Reviewing a play, even if it stands, can have unforeseen effects on the outcome of a game.  In this game in Lincoln, one blogger felt that reviewing a potential scoring play for the Badgers, gave Bielema time to rethink his strategy:
Bad break: On third-and-goal in the first quarter, Nebraska’s defense stopped Montee Ball one foot shy of the end zone. Bret Bielema sent his kicking team on to the field. But officials interrupted action to review the third-down play. That allowed Bielema to re-think his fourth-down strategy. Officials confirmed the call and Ball scored on fourth down. If officials don’t review the call, Wisconsin settles for three points.
And, if Ficken were kicken, there might be no points!  But I digress.

Getting back to spotting the ball in 2005, there were at least two times I recall watching the line judge come running in from the sideline to mark the ball, and drifting forward like a drunken sailor as he did so, adding almost two yards onto the final spot of the ball and assuring that the wolverines made a first down.

And as Wisconsin proved on Saturday night, spotting the ball properly is important.  The game just might hinge on those precious inches of turf.

And what if they hadn't stopped play to review it? 

We will never know.  But at least the correct call was made in 2012, if not in 2005.

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