NCAA Football Officiating Needs To Improve

The latest controversy in the college football world comes following the matchup between Nebraska and then-undefeated Michigan State last Saturday night in Lincoln.

Nebraska's Brandon Reilly scored the game-winning touchdown in the Cornhuskers' 39-38 victory over the Spartans after catching a 30-yard pass from quarterback Tommy Armstrong with 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. 

However, the wide receiver went out-of-bounds before the touchdown catch, raising questions over whether he was forced out by Michigan State cornerback Jermaine Edmondson. On-field officials ruled Reilly's catch as legal, as they believed he was indeed forced out by Edmondson. 

The play was reviewed on replay to determine whether there was contact between the two players, and whether the Nebraska wide receiver reestablished himself in play and made the catch. 

The controversy came on the severity of the contact and whether Reilly simply ran out of bounds not knowing where he was on the field, which would consequently negate the touchdown reception. The Big Ten had the following to say about the call Sunday:

"Per NCAA rules, the instant replay crew cannot review the severity of contact, as that is a judgment call handled by the officials on the field. If the player went out of bounds without contact, he may not return to the field to make the catch unless it has been touched first by an opponent. The instant replay crew did confirm contact between the players, that the wide receiver reestablished himself in the field of play and completed the catch. After the replay review, the referee announced that the play stands as the call on the field. The intent of replay is to not review all judgment calls." - The Big Ten to ESPN

The ultimate ruling proved to be a judgment call, as it was evident Reilly made the reception after being out of bounds. Big Ten supervisor of officials Bill Carollo said the league was overall comfortable with where the call stood, as according to him, replay is not authorized to re-officiate the play. Carollo said the only thing replay could have done to overturn to illegal touching is indisputable video evidence that showed no contact at all.

You be the judge of the play:


Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said he talked with Carollo Sunday but refused to comment about the officiating, stating the Spartans had chances to win the game regardless of the call and that he will let the league do its job.

While the Spartans certainly had chances to stay undefeated, referees are deciding outcomes of critical football games based on blown calls and judgment. 

A team vying for a playoff spot to play for a national championship may have lost their season due to one important call down the stretch. Now, Michigan State certainly cannot rely on the referees' judgment to win games, but for what was at stake, to lose based on judgment is certainly a tough pill to swallow. 

The players can control what they can control, but what's out of their control is becoming more of a problem. Poor officiating is becoming a focal point of the 2015 season, and when it affects the outcomes of games, there needs to be a change.

One Michigan State alumnus wasn't too thrilled following the call, and thus decided to go on a bit of a rant:



And while those tweets were the clean parts of the rant, the clear frustration amounts to how referees are deciding football game outcomes through different means.

Saturday night's controversial judgment call came after a few other incidents this season.

The Atlantic Coast Conference suspended both the on-field officiating crew and two replay booth officials following four major errors in Miami's 30-27 victory over Duke on a kickoff returned for a touchdown on the last play. Those errors included a Miami player's knee being down before releasing one of the eight laterals on the miracle play - a call that would have ended the game. Other errors included a Miami player leaving the bench and entering the field during the return, which would have been a dead foul ball. An illegal block was also missed.


The last controversy occurred Saturday night, when Washington State got a second chance at a fourth down conversion in its 38-24 win over Arizona State due to an "inadvertent whistle."

The league came out and said that referee Mark Duddy and his crew made a mistake, and that the Cougars should not have been given a chance to re-play the down.

On the original 4th-and-5, Washington State's Gabe Marker was well short of the first down marker, resulting in what should have been a turnover on downs to Arizona State. The accidental blown whistle by the line judge, however, allowed WSU another try to convert. The Cougars took advantage of the second chance, as they scored a touchdown on the play. The line judge was suspended one game.


More and more of these incidents seem to be happening, and as a result, college football outcomes continue to be impacted for better or for worse (depending which side of the fence you're on rooting wise). For the game's sake, however, the officiating needs to improve and become more consistent moving forward.

For one, reviews need to give the clear picture. Officials need to make the right calls following reviews. There is no reason why Miami should have won against Duke following a review. Secondly, there should be better explanations as to why reviews were decided a certain way. Often fans are given a weak explanation as to why a play stands or is reversed. If plays are b eing reviewed under certain guidelines, this needs to be stated clearly. 

In the Nebraska-Michigan State game, there was a clear feeling of confusion as to what was being reviewed because the main question mark was based on a referee's judgment. Officials need to be more consistent with their explanations moving forward, and they should be more careful when making those judgment calls. At the end of the day, they're making the game worse. 

Consistency is the main concern. There should be no reason as to why Washington State got another chance at converting a fourth down based on an official's mistake. If you're being fair, that doesn't happen. Either way, one team feels slighted regardless of the call. Officials have to be more careful in those situations because once again, they impact games. 

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