Washington State Football: PAC-12 VP affected penalty calls in USC-WSU game

Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Wednesday night Yahoo sports broke the story that a PAC-12 VP overruled officials on a targeting call during the Cougars game at USC. Did Washington State football coach Mike Leach find out before the rest of us?

Every week Emerald City Swagger does a recap of Washington State football coach Mike Leach’s Monday press conference (when he does one). After the Cougars tough loss to USC, Leach was clearly upset by some of the referee’s decisions during the game when he stepped to the podium on September 24, two days later.

Right out of the box, the coach was asked about the lack of a call on USC linebacker Porter Gustin’s fourth-quarter hit on WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew. Earlier in the game Washington State linebacker, Logan Tago was under scrutiny for targeting on the hit he gave to Southern Cal quarterback J.T. Daniels. Leach begrudgingly deferred to the Pac-12’s general counsel and senior vice president of business affairs Woody Dixon.

“I’d be happy to comment on it if I were allowed to, but I’m not allowed to. If I were allowed to, I’d be happy to. But since I’m not allowed to, I suggest you call Dixon at the conference office,” WSU’s coach told the assembled media. “I’m sure he has a telephone number. I’m sure he’s got an email. Anything we can do in this conference regarding player safety should be at the forefront of our concerns.”

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As it turns out Dixon was much more involved in the situation than he should have been. In a story from Yahoo sports earlier today, Dixon was in the PAC-12 command center with other conference officials and may have influenced the non-calls.

According to Yahoo, Gary McNanna, the PAC-12 official running the command center turned in a report to the conference, blasting Dixon for his interference on the Tago/Daniels play.

"“Both the replay booth and the Command Center agreed this was a targeting foul but unfortunately a third party did not agree so the targeting was removed and we went with the ruling on the field of RPS [roughing the passer] with no targeting,” said the internal report, which was written by replay official Gary McNanna and obtained by Yahoo Sports. “This didn’t play well on TV. Reversed my stoppage for TGT [targeting] to not TGT.”"

Any involvement Dixon had was absolutely improper, he has no training as an official. What were the men in the Command Center supposed to do, tell Dixon that his opinion is irrelevant? Kick the vice president out of the room? That wasn’t going to happen, so what Dixon said mattered.

Gustin’s hit on Minshew later in the game didn’t even get to the review stage. As you will see in the accompanying video from Yahoo’s tweet and ESPN, Gustin left his feet and hit Minshew helmet-to-helmet. Again, what are the people in the Command Center supposed to do when they were already overruled earlier. Absolutely nothing.

What did Leach know when he told the media to call Dixon? Had he spoken directly to Dixon? Did someone else tell him about what Dixon did?

Later in that presser, Leach was asked about the “disconcerting signals” penalties called on Washington State. He again referred the media back to the conference and followed it up with: “you have to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”


Thursday morning conference commissioner Larry Scott addressed the situation at the PAC-12 basketball media day. He acknowledged that mistakes were made and changes would be implemented. According to Yahoo, Scott said the following:

"“I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve made mistakes in terms of our procedures involved with replay review in the command center,” Scott said. “We mixed administrative oversight and leadership with real-time replay review calls made by experts on the field, in the stadium, and in the command center. Moreover, we’ve allowed for ambiguity about who’s got the final call and who makes the ultimate decisions in replay review.”"

Not only does this incident undermine the league’s integrity, but It may also very well have influenced the final outcome. Tago was flagged for ruffing the passer, Gustin was not. A personal foul call would have given Washington State first and 10 at USC’s 10-yard line. The Cougars are over 90% in the red zone this year, and a perfect 100% on the road.

For the sake of argument, what happens if the USC loss keeps Wazzu out of the PAC-12 Championship game or even the College Football Playoff? Someone’s head needs to roll on this one because ultimately what happened shakes the public’s confidence on the legitimacy of the product.

Here is Scott’s full statement on the controversy.

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There will be more fallout on this story in the days ahead. What do you think? Let us know on social media.