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Football

Blum: Officials. Referees. Zebras. Enemies.

By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum

We’ve all heard of the seven stages of grief. Here is the seven stages of anger towards officials:

1. We won, there were refs out there? Didn’t even notice them.

2. We won, but should have won by more if it weren’t for the refs.

3. We lost, the refs cost us, but we made some mistakes as well.

4. We lost, and the only thing worse than the team was the refs. Worst I’ve ever seen.

5. We lost, our team is perfect, it is ALL THE ZEBRAS FAULT!

6. THE REFS ARE CLEARLY ON THE TAKE FROM SOMEBODY. IT IS ALL A CONSPIRACY. EMAIL THE LEAGUE OFFICE IMMEDIATELY. I’D RATHER HAVE STEVIE WONDER OUT THERE. GET  OUT THE PITCH-FORKS. SOMEBODY MUST PAY. I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT!

7. Nebraska fans.

At some point, you have probably seen, heard or felt most of the steps in the fan-referee code. After the Iowa State-Baylor game on Saturday, I would categorize most of the activity on CycloneFantic.com as a solid four. With some fringe members entering the dangerous five to six region and even a few dipping into the lethal Husker-fan arena. (Once you go there it is hard to come back to reality. You end up jumping conferences due to this imagined deceit. It’s a scary place full of angry Bo Pelini dolls and bouncy Lil’ Red’s.)

It is actually pretty hilarious to view this message board after games. (And any message board for that manner). You will inevitably find several message board threads dedicated to the officiating. Most are not complementary. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a thread start with, "Man I thought Cooper Castleberry’s crew was excellent tonight. Big shout-out to those men, that field judge was especially perceptive on his live ball spots!"

Now before we go any further, I have a confession to make. I love officials. It is actually a pretty unhealthy affair with the men in stripes. I come from an officiating family. While most ordinary family gatherings talk about what is on the menu for Thanksgiving and what random Kardashian is on the cover of People this week, the Blum family discusses thrilling topics like the "disconcertion of the free throw shooter" and "neutral zone infractions during live ball situations." Did you know that you can’t pantomime the firing of a weapon while on the football field?  (That’s NCAA football rule 9-2-c. See you learned something today.)

I am obsessed enough with officials that I have Ed Hightower as my Twitter avatar and I refuse to change it until Eddie ball-game hangs up the whistle. Hightower is retiring in two years. I expect a Cal Ripken-like send-off tour. (And yes that is a very Hightower-like thing to do, announcing his retirement two years ahead of time.)

So I may be a bit biased when I say that the officiating most are complaining about over the last three weeks hasn’t been as criminal as some are making it out to be.

That said, I have no freaking clue what necessitated the flag for offsides on the onsides kick in the Baylor game. If you take a look at the video, it is the back judge (on the Baylor sideline) who throws the flag. He has one primary job on kick-offs. And that job is to look straight down the line to make sure nobody is across the 30-yard line when the ball is kicked. AND IT WASN’T EVEN CLOSE! It was absolutely incomprehensible that he could bone a call that much. Officiating is hard. Looking down a line to see if somebody stepped over it is not. To quote Marty Tirrell, "That’s a bad job outta youuuuu….ehehahaha"

The RGIII pass/fumble at least had some gray area. Yes, it appeared to most neutral minded observers that Griffin coughed it up on the pivotal play in the second quarter, but you can understand how some could interpret that his arm was perhaps moving forward.

The offsides call: completely inexcusable. The guy missed it plain and simple. Something similar has happened before in a game that involved a Big 12 club. Back in 2006, Oklahoma traveled to Oregon for a non-conference game. Here is the summary from USA TODAY:

"Oregon won 34-33 after scoring two touchdowns late in fourth quarter.

After the first score, Oregon recovered an onside kick, leading to the winning touchdown. The Pac-10 acknowledged Monday that the kick was touched by an Oregon player before it traveled the required 10 yards, so the ball should have been awarded to Oklahoma. The video also shows an Oklahoma player recovered the ball, although that part of the play was not reviewable under the instant replay rule.

The kick had been reviewed by the instant replay officials, who concurred with the field officials".

So not only was that onside kick touched before the required 10 yards, Oklahoma recovered. Check out the YouTube video if you get time, it is horrendous officiating. Needless to say, Bob Stoops was not happy with the Pac-10 officiating crew that day. The OU president sent a letter to then-Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg asking for the game to be stricken from the record and for the officials to be suspended the rest of the year. He was turned down. The Pac-10 ended up suspending the on field and replay officials for one game each due to the error. They also publically acknowledged the mistake.

Obviously, Oklahoma could directly attribute the botched call to the loss. If that doesn’t happen, they win. The Iowa State onside offsides error is not as directly relatable and let’s be real, an Iowa State-Baylor mishap is going to receive significantly less attention than the national stage for OU-Oregon.

It was an awful mistake by the back judge and for that I hope the Big 12 reprimands him in some fashion. And you better believe the Iowa State administration is aware of the circumstances and voiced their displeasure to the powers at be. We shall see if anything comes from it.

But offsides call aside, let’s take a closer look at the so-called bias against Iowa State by Big 12 officials. There have been 32 games officiated by Big 12 officiating crews in 2011. In those games, there have been 73 plays reviewed (2.3 per game). That number has shown an upward trend since replay was implemented in 2005.

2005: 1.23 reviews per game

2006: 1.44 reviews per game

2007: 1.38 reviews per game

2008: 1.65 reviews per game

2009: 1.76 reviews per game

2010: 1.99 reviews per game

There is no question officials are becoming less hesitant to use the review system. This causes more delays in the game. It also adds to an increase in fan anxiety. It heightens the spotlight on the officials and gives everyone the time to look at replays and calculate how much they are getting hosed by the officials (rightly or wrongly). Without the review system, I have no doubt the negative attention on officials would be considerably less.

In 2011, 24 of the 73 reviews have been overturned by the replay official. There have been 859 reviews in the six year history of the replay system in the Big 12 and 26 percent of the time the call on the field is overturned.

In the five Iowa State games this season, there has been a total of 18 reviews, well above the average. (For what it’s worth, the Iowa game was officiated by a crew from the Big 10, the rest are Big 12 crews.) Here are the plays that have been reviewed and the result as it pertains to Iowa State’s favor:

Baylor

Woody’s six yard run to goal-line………OVERTURNED  (Against ISU)

Griffin fumble/pass……..OVERTURNED (Against ISU)

Jantz Fumble recovered for TD by Baylor……………….STANDS (Against ISU)

Texas

McCoy incomplete pass to Mike Davis…..STANDS (For ISU)

Shontrelle Fumble, Shontrelle recovers……….STANDS (For ISU)

McCoy to Shipley 49 yards………….STANDS (Against ISU)

Jantz to Reynolds pass on sideline…………………OVERTURNED (Against ISU)

White Touchdown………………OVERTURNED (For ISU)

UCONN

McCummnings 10 yard TD…….OVERTURNED (Against ISU)

Iowa

Jantz to Reynolds TD made it 10-7……….STANDS (For ISU)

Branderhorst Fumble…………..STANDS (Against ISU)

Jantz to Darks TD for overtime……….STANDS (For ISU)

Coker OT four yard TD……………..STANDS (Against ISU)

UNI

Jantz to West pass ruled incomplete………STANDS (Against ISU)

Jantz TD pass to Branderhorst………….OVERTURNED (Against ISU)

Jantz sneak at end of 1st half……….STANDS (For ISU)

Tirrell Rennie spotting of ball change……..OVERTURNED (For ISU)

Jantz scramble pass to Lenz for TD……….STANDS (For ISU)

 

Of the 18 plays, seven have been overturned. And 10 of the 18 reviews ended up in the oppositions favor. Certainly nothing conspiracy worthy. It may seem like every call goes against the good guys, but bad news is more easily remembered.

I especially enjoyed the theory thrown around that the Big 12 refs are indebted to the Texas schools. It is worth noting that the referee (aka the white hat–the man in charge) for the Baylor game was Matt Loeffler. He also was the referee for Iowa State’s win down in Texas in 2010.

So, no, I don’t believe there is a grand plan to keep the Cyclones down.

But there is something that should raise an eyebrow in the Jacobson building.

Big 12 officials are just like any employee. They get appraised and graded for every call by the director of officials. Therefore, you have your crews that score better than others. The higher scoring crews get the best games. The director of officials makes this scheduling decision.

In my opinion, there is one "Grade A" crew in the Big 12: Scott Novak’s crew. They called the 2010 Big 12 Championship, the 2010 Rose Bowl and have also been on duty for this year’s Oregon-LSU game in Dallas, Oklahoma-Florida State, Oklahoma State-Texas A&M, and this past week they were at Texas-Oklahoma. It is pretty obvious to see they are the "money" crew in the conference.

Novak has been officiating Big 12 games since he came over from the Mountain West conference in 2008. (Yes, I follow these things. I obviously need some help.)

Since 2008, he has officiated 30 plus Big 12 games. Iowa State has had him twice: The season opener against South Dakota State in 2008 and the K-State game in Arrowhead in 2009. In the same time, the Cyclones have had Greg Burks’ crew and Matt Loeffler’s crew six times each.

It makes sense that because Iowa State has not been in "marquee" games very often over the past few years, they would not get the A crew assigned to their games. It’s the same reason you don’t put Pam Ward on the Saturday night ABC game of the week. But it would be nice to see a little bit more level playing field. Although I doubt we see Novak in Columbia on Saturday. A guy can dream.

For now, let the conspiracy theories continue. At the very least, it keeps me entertained. But I do ask that you stop short of fan-referee code 7, we hear enough of that from the Pelini’s.