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College FootballPac-12 officiating is in massive crisis as executive interloper overrules replay decision

Pac-12 officiating is in massive crisis as executive interloper overrules replay decision

A damaging report from Yahoo Sports reveals that a Pac-12 executive interceded in the replay process and overturned a consensus targeting call by the replay official and the command center last month.

On a third quarter play of the Sept. 21 game against Washington State, USC quarterback J.T. Daniels allowed his knee to touch the ground, which immediately ended the play. Washington State linebacker Logan Tago lowered his helmet and delivered a forcible blow to Daniels’ helmet. This was immediately flagged for roughing the passer, and by rule, it initiated a review for a targeting call. A targeting foul in college football is an automatic ejection.

The replay official at the stadium and the replay decision makers at the Pac-12 command center apparently agreed this was a clear targeting foul. Despite that, the targeting foul was not assessed and Tago remained in the game.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports found the reason the targeting call wasn’t made was because Woodie Dixon, Pac-12 general counsel and senior vice president of business affairs, didn’t think it was targeting. He called into the replay bunker at Pac-12 headquarters in San Francisco and reportedly countermanded the targeting decision. Replay supervisor Bill Richardson was present in the replay center.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott disputes the Yahoo Sports report, but Thamel produced the internal game report by replay official Gary McNanna, who was stationed at the stadium.

ROF [ruling on the field] was RPS [roughing the passer] on the defense but an extra hit by WSU 45 with a blow to the head had us stop the game to review the hit. The QB was on one knee when #45 came from outside, lowered and lead with his helmet to the head of the QB. 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 with no targeting. This did not play well on TV. Reversed my stoppage for TGT [targeting] to not TGT.

The supervisor who graded McNanna’s performance on the report used descriptive responses for other entries, but for this one, it merely stated “correctly handled.”

Pac-12 sr. VP of business affairs Woodie Dixon (Pac-12 photo)

Pac-12 director of officiating Dave Coleman was hired in 2015, a veteran of the officiating leadership at the NFL, when Pac-12 football officiating already had a history of being pilloried by fans and the media. Coleman took over after NFL referee Tony Corrente abruptly resigned as the conference officiating coordinator in the middle of the 2014 season, reportedly because conference didn’t back its officials sufficiently. The entry on the game report seems to squarely support Corrente’s allegations.

That, however, pales in comparison to the massive crisis Coleman now faces as a result of this revelation.

We cannot stress strongly enough that Dixon has completely blown the officials’ credibility — on the field, in replay booth at the stadium, and in the centralized replay center. Dixon’s actions have pierced the veil of impartiality of the entire Pac-12 football officiating apparatus. While he apparently has legitimate credentials to be in the replay command center to assist with reviews, the alleged decision by Dixon to pull rank and overturn the decision in replay breached the firewall between the business interests of the conference and the unimpeachable neutrality of the officiating operations. Whether the intent was corrupt is immaterial; the issue is that officiating must not have any whiff of impropriety, and Dixon’s mere presence in the replay center is damaging, let alone his decision to intercede.

Non-officiating conference executives do not need to be in or involved with the replay center on game days. At most, they need to sit in the back row, sip coffee, and spectate. How in the world does a senior vice president of business affairs think he can step in and make a replay ruling without any formal officiating training, let alone experience? What arrogance! Who allowed this situation to happen? Did Coleman approve Dixon to be in the replay process? Does Coleman have the authority to eject Dixon? Does the “senior” in front of Dixon’s title trump anything Coleman tries to do? Was Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott aware of this arrangement before this incident? Who is accountable?

These questions need to be answered. Now.

Recently retired NFL official and former American Athletic Conference officiating supervisor Terry McAulay also blasted the Pac-12 on how this decision impacts player safety.

Replay is partially centralized in its decision-making process for four of the Power 5 conferences, with the Big Ten being the outlier. The replay official at the stadium and the designated supervisor at the command center work out a consensus ruling on every replay. The national supervisor of replay is former senior vice president of NFL officiating Dean Blandino. However, due to the inherent conflict with his current Fox Sports duties, Blandino recuses himself from the entire position during the season, and will return in January. When he returns to the national post in January, Blandino must convene the conference coordinators at all levels and insist on wholly disinterested personnel in the replay operation, or perhaps better yet, nationalizing the centralized replay operation with each conference providing key decision makers.

Until then, the infection of the Pac-12’s impartiality will be viral and undermines the confidence not only in the conference’s officiating, but also for all major conferences. Coleman must immediately purge any potential conflicted individuals, no matter how qualified. Immediate, as in, what time is it now, why haven’t you already?

Even at that, the scant amount of credibility the Pac-12 had left is completely shot. And, Pac-12 fans have every right to be skeptical of every replay ruling the rest of this season.

This post has been updated to correct Coleman’s title at the Pac-12.

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