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Pac-10 Officials on Bad Streak

College football: Call in USC game could have been crucial to race.

October 23, 1996|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Did Saturday's double-overtime game between USC and Arizona State stretch your imagination a bit?

Then imagine if USC had won, and the winning play turned out to be Chris Miller's "catch" in the end zone. And what if, after that, USC wound up in the Rose Bowl? And the Sun Devils had to go to the Weed-Eater Bowl?

Arizona State people would be angry for, what, 50 years? Would border skirmishes break out at Yuma, Blythe and Needles?

The question was put to Pacific 10 Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen. His response was a long groan.

Hansen declined to even speculate on that worst of all nightmares, but he did talk about the blown call at Tempe, the "touchdown" awarded Miller on an end zone pass that replays clearly showed he had not caught.

And he talked about the game's last play, in the second overtime series, when what was just as clearly shown to be an incomplete USC pass was ruled a fumble. Arizona State's Courtney Jackson ran it back for a touchdown.

So, the officials in two of USC's last three games have muffed three major plays, the two scoring plays Saturday and a third-quarter "fumble" call on a run by Delon Washington against California on Oct. 5.

That day, the replay showed Washington had possession when he hit the ground at Cal's one-yard line, then the ball popping from his grasp. Yet Cal was given possession when it recovered in the end zone, went on to a field goal that gave the Bears a 19-0 lead and eventually won, 22-15.

There was another obvious incorrect call in another Pac-10 game Saturday. At Pullman, Wash., in the Cal-Washington State game, Cal was trailing, 21-16, in the fourth quarter when a Washington State ballcarrier was cleanly stripped of the ball and Cal recovered the fumble.

Officials ruled that the ballcarrier was down before the fumble. Again, replays showed that to be the wrong call.

Hansen, who was at the USC-ASU game, said he is disappointed with recent officiating in Pac-10 games.

"I thought the officials were having a fine year until Saturday," he said.

"I've already talked to the crew chief [referee Jim Fogltance] at the USC-Arizona State game, and I want us to talk to everyone else in that crew. We're going to look at those two plays very closely and ask each crew member how we can prevent that from happening again.

"And those two calls will come up at off-season seminars for our officials too."

There is no Pac-10 protest procedure, but coaches often submit their own videos and written comments about disputed officials' calls. Before their next game, they are given written responses from Verle Sorgen, the conference's coordinator of officials.

Sorgen was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Cal Coach Steve Mariucci, who called the controversial calls at Tempe "unbelievable," said Tuesday there are incorrect calls in almost every game, but added, "That's how it goes. . . . You live with it and hope it all balances out before the year is out."

There are 50 Pac-10 football officials, each of whom makes $520 a game, plus $120 per diem and travel expenses. There is a long waiting list of applicants for Pac-10 officiating jobs, Hansen said.

The same crew stays together throughout the season, and crews are split geographically.

"We do that so a crew won't be thought of as being an L.A. crew or a Seattle crew," Hansen said.

"So a typical seven-man crew will have guys from L.A., Seattle, Oregon and maybe the Bay Area."

There are seminars in the off-season and crews meet every Friday night during the season, at a hotel near whatever game they are working the next day, to review a video of their previous week's game.

Coaches are often reluctant to criticize officials in the media, fearing punishment from the conference. But Hansen said coaches are asked to refrain from criticism only on game days.

"What we don't want is coaches lashing out in the heat of the moment, or 10 minutes after a game," Hansen said.

"Talking about officiating a day or two later, that's fine. I've been commissioner 13 years and we've never fined or suspended a coach for doing that. . . . I don't know if it's ever happened in the Pac-10."

Robinson spoke about the two bad calls at his media lunch Tuesday, and said he had talked to "the conference" about them.

"I just said I see too many officials looking away from the ball during a play," he said.

"We're seeing a guy getting tackled with the ball, and there'll be an official looking in the other direction, maybe seeing if someone's getting held. We only ask that they look at the ball."

A week ago, talking of the USC-Arizona game, Robinson described a play in which his tight end, John Allred, was flagged for holding.

"It was maybe our best block of the year," he said. "It goes right onto our highlight film. And they called it a hold."

On the "fumble" runback by Arizona State on Saturday, the official in the best position to see quarterback Brad Otton's hurried shovel pass, umpire Walt Wolf, was knocked over by USC receiver Billy Miller, bringing up a pet peeve of Cal's Mariucci.

The umpire stations himself in the middle of the defense. Many coaches, however, would prefer he be behind the offensive backfield.

"You see that a lot, someone runs over the guy and he gets carried off," Mariucci said.

"That's what I'd like to see from a mechanic's standpoint--get that umpire out of the way because he's going to get hurt."

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