In the desert Saturday night, a football game slid toward an unsatisfying end. The scoreboard said 32-30, Arizona State beat Wisconsin. Sort of.
“Nobody won the game, at the end of the day,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday. “That’s what so hard about it. No ‘best team’ won.”
Hard to argue with that assessment, but Todd Graham tried. Three times on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference, the ASU head man pointed out that ASU ran 93 plays to Wisconsin’s 63 and had 32 first downs to the Badgers’ 15. Like any of that matters.
The gulf between the coaches serves to underscore the Travesty in Tempe, when Pac-12 officials gazed vacantly at each other while Wisconsin’s precious seconds ticked down from 15 and prevented the Badgers from a would-be, game-winning field goal.
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In the information age, all this feels odd.
Big picture, what we’re told, by inference, is that the Arizona State-Wisconsin game was very important. It was on ESPN, and for the Pac-12, that means it’s part of the hookup with the cable giant and Fox worth about $250 million a year.
Yet at the end of it, officials were able to trot off the field, while a big crowd of 66,000 and millions watching nationwide turned to the guy next to him and said, “What just happened?”
And nobody knew. Nobody knew late Saturday night, or Sunday, and not until Monday morning did some clarity begin to emerge, when the Pac-12 announced it was reprimanding the crew headed by referee Jack Folliard and applying sanctions for a generally lackadaisical approach to the finish.
Even at that, there was a haze of uncertainty. Contrary to most leagues’ discipline of officials, the Pac-12 didn’t announce what those sanctions are. The officials are probably suspended, but what’s the point of announcing sanctions if you don’t stipulate what they are?
Nor did the Pac-12 specify what should have happened in those lawless 15 seconds. The NCAA rulebook makes it clear that the ASU player continuing to lie on the ball would constitute delay of game (a 5-yard penalty) and the same passage gives the referee leeway to stop the clock.
As for the information gap after the game, it would be beneficial for a pool reporter to be able to ask questions of the referee — exactly what takes place in such situations in the NCAA basketball tournament. The Pac-12 has such a mechanism, but it’s supposed to cover “rule interpretations,” so it’s questionable whether an official would feel compelled to respond, even though this was surely a sequence that begged for explanation.
One media member brought up the pool-reporter possibility to an ASU staffer. It was too late; those 11:15 finishes, now routine around the league, have a way of stifling enterprise at deadline.
So, a general mess. As for the final seconds, you wonder if it doesn’t demand some sort of replay-booth oversight to sign off on the final play of a game.
“Replay is not going to fix everything,” Rogers Redding, NCAA coordinator of officials, told me Tuesday. “It’s less a rules issue than it is a game-management issue.”
Said Andersen: “At the end of the day, the kids didn’t quite decide that one.”
Horsefeathers, Graham says. “He’s still gotta make the field goal,” he insisted. “Look at the stats. I don’t think we stole anything.”
It was the officials who stole something, which was the ending.
And What’s More …
• Oregon State RB Storm Woods, who was taken from the Utah game in an ambulance, has a concussion and is out for Saturday’s San Diego State game.
• Utah has won three straight in its series with BYU, which, after Saturday, doesn’t resume until 2016. The series is unbroken back to World War II years.
• Cal coach Sonny Dykes, on the strength of the Pac-12: “I think the league is as good as there is. I’ll probably get my house firebombed for saying that.”
• WSU coach Mike Leach, asked by a student for advice on where to take a date for dinner, responded: “Try somewhere where there’s not salad, because girls will try to show off and act like all they eat is salads.” On his first date with his future wife Sharon while at BYU: “We went to A&W. I’d just finished a rugby game. I had a coupon book. She says, ‘What are you getting?’ I handed her the 2-for-1 coupon book, and I said, ‘I don’t know, but here’s the menu.’ ”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org