Yahoo reported Wednesday that a senior Pac-12 executive interfered with an officiating decision in the USC vs. WSU game. Larry Scott admitted the mistake Thursday, but this nonetheless undermines the league's credibility, says Jon Wilner.
Yahoo dropped a pigskin-shaped bomb Wednesday night with a report that strikes at the heart of the credibility of the Pac-12 officiating system.
You know, that same system that recently gave us the confounding non-targeting call on Porter Gustin vs. Gardner Minshew, the awkward explanation/defense of that decision by commissioner Larry Scott, and all those what-game-are-they-watching instances of recent years.
This is worse, considerably worse, because it’s not just about bad officiating. It’s about the conference office influencing the officiating.
Yes, it involves the Washington State-USC game from late September, but not the Gustin-Minshew collision.
Yahoo reporter Pete Thamel got his hands on the replay booth official’s internal report, which indicated the booth and the officiating command center in San Francisco were prepared to call an obvious targeting penalty on WSU linebacker Logan Tago after a helmet-to-helmet contact with USC quarterback JT Daniels late in the third quarter. (Daniels had taken a knee and was a defenseless player.)
But mysteriously, targeting wasn’t called:
“The replay report obtained by Yahoo Sports states that ‘unfortunately a third party did not agree’ with the call. That ‘third party’ was Pac-12 general counsel and senior vice president of business affairs Woodie Dixon, Yahoo Sports sources have confirmed … Dixon telephoned in his opinion that the play wasn’t targeting, sources said. According to the report, his opinion overruled both the trained officials in the stadium replay booth and in the league’s command center.”
Dixon is the supervisor of Pac-12 football, but by no means is he an actual official. He has no business being involved in officiating decisions. None.
Scott refuted the claim that a “third party” was involved, because Dixon is part of the replay review team:
“Our instant replay supervisor [Bill Richardson] is the ultimate decision maker,” Scott told Yahoo. “The misperception that in this case, the ultimate decision from the command center was made by someone other than the instant replay supervisor is a concern.”
It’s not a concern; it’s a nightmare.
On Thursday morning, at Pac-12 basketball media day, Scott admitted the football review process was flawed — “We made a mistake” — and is implementing immediate changes.
General Counsel Woodie Dixon will no longer be part of the review process.
Additionally, Scott has ordered up a long-term review of the replay process that will include coaches. These are vital steps, the only steps, and they give the conference a chance to crawl out of this mess and restore credibility. In general, Scott hit all the marks with actions and comments on the subject.
Scott has a bit of a credibility issue of his own these days when it comes to officiating in general, and targeting specifically, after he stepped in a mess by commenting on the Gustin hit.
What’s more, the “third party” reference is not a media creation or insinuation by an apoplectic coach. It came from a report written by the replay official himself.
And guess who’s going to believe the replay booth official: Coaches, players, fans … everybody.
That replay official, by the way, is Gary McNanna. He didn’t comment, but his written words spoke volumes.
Per Yahoo, citing the written report:
“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 (roughing the passer) with no targeting. This didn’t play well on TV. Reversed my stoppage for (targeting) to not (targeting).”
No matter what Scott says, no matter what the conference wants us to believe, the damage is done. The mere perception of interference in the process by an untrained ‘third party’ will rule the narrative.
And in that regard, the situation presents a direct challenge to the credibility of the Pac-12 officiating system — not just the officials themselves but the system — especially in regard to targeting calls.
Any perceived deterioration in the integrity of the officiating process undermines the integrity of the entire product.
More from Yahoo, this time on the credibility issue:
“It’s unheard of,” said Terry McAulay, the rules analyst for NBC who spent 10 years as a coordinator of officials for the Big East and AAC. “I was appalled when I heard. The autonomy of officiating needs to be absolute. When there’s pressure from the outside brought to bear, it threatens the integrity of the game.”
First question: Why is a conference executive, who is not a trained official, involved in the process in the first place?
What influence has Dixon, the boss of the boss of the officials, wielded in previous games, and will he continue to oversee Pac-12 football?
What other “third parties,” if any, have influenced the process over time?
And where does player safety fit? Because anyone who watched Tago’s hit on Daniels and thought, “Nah, that’s not targeting” simply doesn’t understand the rule.
(This isn’t the first gut-punch to the integrity of Pac-12 officiating in the Scott era, by the way. Let’s not forget the Ed Rush bounty on Sean Miller.)
The matter won’t soon fade from memory, and it comes at a precarious time for Pac-12 football … after the conference scheduled itself out of the playoff last year with the ridiculous Saturday-Friday road trips … after the worst bowl performance in major college history … after all the bad PR for night games and the Pac-12 Networks … after a series of marquee early-season losses in 2018 … and after Scott was roasted for his comments on the Gustin-Minshew hit.
This stuff just doesn’t happen in the other conferences, folks.
Two final thoughts:
1) If Scott doesn’t take immediate and substantial steps to restore credibility in the officiating process, the head coaches and athletic directors must intervene, en masse, and demand change.
And if that doesn’t work, they must get the presidents and chancellors involved.
Doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing prolongs this dumpster fire and invites another. Football is too important to the schools for the brand to sustain longterm damage to its credibility.
2) It has become abundantly clear that Pac-12 football needs help, help on numerous fronts, help that can only come from outside Pac-12 HQ.
Late last season, the Hotline called for the formation of a competition committee that would have full authority to act in the best interest of Pac-12 football on matters ranging from scheduling policy to officiating to bowl partnerships — anything and everything.
It would be, essentially, a governing body.
After this latest mess, I ask: How much more evidence do we need?