Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Huskies: Controversial call spoils potential win

The Washington Huskies got robbed. At least, that is sentiment of many fans who have a hard time accepting an overturned call from the booth that finished the final drive and gave Stanford the victory.

Can you blame the fans? Sure, the Huskies did a lot of things to hurt themselves. Washington gave up some huge kickoff returns and they committed way too many penalties. However, Keith Price and company battled until the very end. The Dawgs never gave up and they never lost confidence in themselves. They pushed their high-tempo offense, even when certain Stanford defenders like Shayne Skov would stop play with mysterious injuries, only to bounce back onto the field one play later.

They must have some great trainers on the Stanford Cardinal sideline.

But, I digress. Why are the fans mad? Simple. They were promised something. They were promised something by the football powers. They were assured that technology, a second pair of “trained” eyes and a pause in the action would ensure accuracy.

In essence, we are talking about the “I” word. That word is “indisputable,” as in “indisputable video evidence.” How many times are we going to hear that dreaded phrase?

Many have seen the footage, but here is it is again:

Go ahead, watch it again. And again. And again. Export it to your fancy video editing program. Find the key frame or two. Zoom in. What do you see?

Grass. Arms. The point of the football. Shadowed grass. An indeterminable amount of space between the player and the ground.

You see the same thing that everyone else see. A dispute. In other words, you see what you want to see. I guess technology doesn’t eliminate human interpretation.

There were two angles on this play (that we know of), and neither provided clear evidence that the ball hit the turf. Now, obviously some people will suggest that they see the end of the football peeking out, and that it looks like the ball might be touching the ground.

Might. Not exactly indisputable.

Here’s the problem. The referee on the field called it a catch. Some fans have questioned whether they should have made the initial call, but that is irrelevant. They made the call. Therefore, the people in the booth needed indisputable video evidence that the ball hit the ground. That level of evidence simply did not exist.

A quick survey of the comment boards on various sports sites reveals that fans on both sides do not agree. There are even Washington fans who believe the ball hit the ground and Stanford fans who believe the catch should have stood. What do we call that? A dispute!

Anyone who has watched football in recent years knows what a worthy overturned call looks like. Typically when a call is overturned there is clear evidence of the ball traveling downward, hitting the ground and bouncing back up into the hands of the receiver. When it is obvious, it is obvious, and the person in the booth can make the appropriate call.

This situation was not obvious.

Again, the problem is the word. If the Pac-12 and the NCAA would have written a different rule, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. This rule is set up for inevitable failure. The rule should have stated that calls on the field can be overturned if there is “grainy, out-of-focus, subjective video evidence.” That would give the guy in the booth much more leeway.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian did his best to remain diplomatic, but it isn’t hard to read between the lines. Sark said:

It’s unfortunate the game had to come down to a judgment call like that. That was unfortunate, because it was two good football teams battling and competing with one another. I wish the game would have gotten won on the field and not in a booth upstairs with some guy who didn’t get to feel the emotion and the hard-fought football game that the game was.

But wait, there is more:

From my vantage point, it looked like it was pretty hard to overturn it. But, again, I didn’t get to sit 50 yards up in a booth and play a video game and make a call.

Ouch. Maybe the coach should have just said what was on his mind.

If the call on the field stands, it does not guarantee that Washington wins. However, if the Huskies are allowed to keep playing, today we would be talking about how Washington battled back and won or the Cardinal made a valiant defense in the red zone. Instead, we are talking about a nameless individual who is sitting in a little room watching a video monitor.

In the end, the person in the booth made a mistake. They made a judgment call. Unfortunately, that was not their job this time. This time, they should have refused to review the case.

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Tags: Keith Price NCAA PAC 12 Stanford Cardinal Washington Huskies

  • Greg

    My compliments to Todd Pheiffer for an extremely well written article. I admit a strong bias as I’ve been an avid Husky ever since my dad took me to the then newly upgraded Husky Stadium in the late forties. Going to school there followed by years as a season ticket holder cemented my absolute allegiance. Nevertheless, objectivity on this particular incident is not completely out of reach.

    I don’t know what was seen by the official on the field who made the call. I do know he had a better angle than the replay official and that he made the call quite adamantly. Had he ruled the pass an incompletion, one would have expected it to be reviewed, but there still would not have been “indisputable evidence” for it to have been overturned. That would have been a more acceptable outcome however, because that would have followed the system as we understand it. But instead, it was ruled a completion on the field based on what that official saw with his eyes. His angle was superior one that the replay guy did not have. Yet the replay guy assumed he was in the best position to make the call even though his digital data was less than unequivocal.

    Todd calls attention to the officials’ roles. The on field official’s duty is to make the right call by placing himself in the right position to do so in close proximity to the event. He has to make a nearly instantaneous call, sometimes with a less than an ideal view and always without the benefit of instant replay or slow motion. Obviously, mistakes are possible under such circumstances; that’s why we have a replay official. What the on field guy has going for him is the eyes of his colleagues. If another official sees the situation differently, he can overrule which results in an on field deliberation and presumably a confirmation of the correct call. On the other hand, the replay official’s role is to clean up the obvious mistakes. The only way to do this is with “indisputable visual evidence.” To do otherwise would make the all calls of the officials on the field irrelevant. On field calls by nature have a subjective element, but replay calls must by nature be totally objective.

    The official who made the call on the field did his job exactly as prescribed and made a call with confidence. No other official on the field saw anything different, yet the guy in the booth, with less than conclusive visual data chose to presume the call on the field was irrelevant. That’s what is so frustrating. As Todd points out, the replay official clearly overreached his authority. He has the easiest job of all the officials. He only makes a call when it’s an easy call. If it’s difficult he’s not supposed to make it.

    I’d like to hear from the guy who made the original call. By now he’s probably had the benefit of seeing the replay. Once overruled, he probably thought that the replay guy must have seen something he hadn’t, but I suspect he’s as frustrated as I am