Sunday, September 7, 2008

ESPN's Mark May Doesn't Talk Truth About Officials

ESPN college football analyst Mark May vilified the game officials who worked Brigham Young's thrilling 28-27 triumph over the University of Washington yesterday on ESPN's College Game Day, a rant that was replayed repeatedly on ESPN's conglomerate of networks yesterday and today.

First, the facts. Brigham Young and Washington played a classic, back-and-forth battle that ended in a BYU victory when the Cougars blocked a 35-yard point-after try (PAT) with just two seconds to play that would have tied the game. The PAT was penalized 15 yards when Husky quarterback Jake Locker flung the football airborne over his shoulder in celebration after scoring a three-yard touchdown that gave his team a chance to tie the game.

Now, with apologies to Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story. May called the decision to penalize the Husky signalcaller 'horrendous' and 'inexcusable' because it was administered at the very end of the game, taking the game out of the hands of the players. May took a second shot at an official in a different game, clowning an official for colliding with a player by calling the guilty back judge overweight and out of shape. Yes, the official was in error, but was the personal attack needed? Could it have been the official simply made one mistake in one game of a career that could possibly span a generation's worth of games?

Put another way, I don't believe this to be sports journalism at it's highest evolution, something ESPN has started to show less and less of in recent years.

Mark May engaged in, at best, lazy reporting as it relates to opinion-based sports journalism and at worst, became another shill voice for the millions who don't know the first thing about the game as they sit on their couch with a bag of Cheetos and mug of beer. May seemed more interested in pushing the easy perception than the actual reality, like the handful of loathsome sports talk radio jockeys, opportunists with a microphone siding up with the many who live in the fog of alcohol-stained, foul-mouthed slurs directed toward officials on any given Saturday in any given stadium.

I don't mind that May doesn't agree with the call, nor would I dare take away his right to opine as much. To defend May, he's a former college football player and established college football journalist who usually elocutes flawlessly with equal parts wit and wisdom. It's the venom that he spewed forth onto the officials and the omission of all the facts in making his opinion known that I take exception with. It's okay to have any opinion as long as you're fair to the principals in the story when presenting your opinion.

May wasn't fair, instead taking advantage of two situations to make himself look like a hero to the millions of fans, many of whom have never officiated a down of football, much less the PAC-10, in their lives. Did he explain that the NCAA is requiring officials to flag all extraordinary celebrations, including throwing the football, as celebration fouls? Did he ask an officiating coordinator for opinion? (you can't tell me ESPN doesn't have access to those types of contacts on deadline) Did he report that all Division I officials have viewed the DVD put forth by the NCAA and the College Football Officials (CFO) association that specifically targets this type of celebration?

May didn't tell the whole story of the missed PAT, either. After blocking the kick, BYU was penalized with an identical 15-yard celebration penalty when the Cougar sideline spilled into the middle of the field in celebration. Why did May omit this? Because the subsequent play didn't result in any change to the score. If the penalty against BYU had resulted in a safety to give Washington a one-point win, would that penalty have been lampooned as 'horrendous', too?

There's no clock time applied to PAT situations, meaning the officials applied the same correct foul to the Cougars at exactly the same juncture of the game as they had applied to the Huskies with perfect consistency, something May ignored in proving his perspective to be lacking when it comes to considering all aspects of this officiating story.

Don't believe me? Do you think I'm just taking up for the officials because I'm a fellow official? Consider the two head coaches quoted in the game story, ironically found at on both Saturday and Sunday.

Said Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham: "It's one that they almost have to call. It really should be a no-call, but it's one they have to call when they see it."

If anyone knows about unfair in college football, it's Tyrone Willingham. This is a man who just suffered a crushing defeat, a man best remembered for being removed from his dream job at Notre Dame in a manner that truly was callous and horrendous. Did Willingham play the victim card? Did Willingham play the blame game? No, Willingham took the high road and exercised a leader's perspective.

How this man wasn't good enough to lead Notre Dame's football program remains a question as baffling as where Jimmy Hoffa rests.

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall also responded in kind. Asked in a different locker room without the benefit of hearing Willingham's answer, Mendelhall said: "I didn't see it, but I do know this, that throughout the entire game, there were all kinds of plays on both sides -- that was the most visible play -- but celebration is a penalty. Whether it was or not, I didn't see it, but if it was it should have been called. Even if it was our team, it should have been called. The rules are the rules."

Even Locker exercised some perspective in the moment of post game afterthought captured by reporters. "I just was excited. I like to play the game with emotion and it got the best of me."

Doesn't sound like coaches and student-athletes playing the blame game but rather, coaches and student athletes who know the rules, understand the responsibility that goes into officiating a game and are unwilling to engage in conduct that sullies themselves or their university. Sadly, that doesn't move copy, drive website hits or sell network advertising.

May also didn't tell viewers that coaches -- not officials -- write the rules, which would explain why the coaches understood and defended the call in the face of reporters eager to elicit a damning quote towards officials. Yes, ESPN quoted the NCAA rule that vindicated the officials, but didn't read the edict in the book that states: "When officiating a game, certain rules are to be ignored by the officials in certain situations as they relate to time, score and outcome. Officials are to specifically ignore unsportsmanlike penalties when the outcome of the game is in doubt."

That was omitted because it doesn't exist, in any rulebook, in any sport, at any level.

The rules are the rules, like Willingham, Locker and Mendenhall all admitted. When it's 35-0 in the fourth quarter, you can pass on calls like an unsportsmanlike penalty, but when the game's outcome remains in the balance and the score matters, so do the rules and their proper administration.

A knowledgeable football fan doesn't need May to tell them as much.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, available at major and not-so-major retailers now!

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Anonymous autofill said...

This is an exceptionally well written and accurate picture of the play, the rule, and the officials getting it right. Mark May proved disgraceful in his biased reporting of the incident and the villifying of the officials, the game and BYU's rightful win. They did block the PAT, even if it had been kicked successfully, Washington still would have had to win the game. BYU had moved the ball for nearly 500 yards to Washington's 340 yards. The superior team won. It's hard to win on the road in the PAC-10 of you're an out-of-conference team. Normally, you have to beat the other team, the fans, and the PAC-10 officials. We don't need ESPN's biased talk to put down a top 15 team (now top 18 due to the biased reporting of Mark May and ESPN).

September 8, 2008 at 12:18 AM 
Blogger Paul said...

Every one of your rationalizations is nothing more than a series of sorry excuses. Thankfully the voters have realized that this was an execrable performance by the officials, and justifiably have reflected the fact that BYU did not win the game. As far as I am concerned the win is not legitimate, nor should it be. This result should be thrown out. I question the very integrity of the sport over this despicable call. First of all, zero tolerance in anything is bankrupt and played out. Ever. Secondly, if there is to be such a rule it MUST be enforced on the kickoff. To affect the scoring is gutless and weak. Thirdly, if Locker's action was excessive celebration, I want nothing more to do with college football. The NCAA must declare this game a tie, or replay it from the extra point at the two and a half yard line, or declare it a "no contest." I don't care what conference this incompetent crew comes from (it doesn't make one damned bit of difference. PERIOD........), they should all be fired and banned from working another football game at any level. I am by no means a fan of either team, and have no personal interest other than fairness and justice. This was an egregious call, and anyone involved with it has shamed and disgraced college football and deserves all the vilification anyone could choose to heap upon their very narrow shoulders. If the BYU coach had any honour, he would have chosen the kickoff to enforce the gutless penalty instead of accpeting an undeserved gift and tainting his own team with doubts about the legitimacy of this win. He shot himself in the foot. Hopefully, the voters that have taken this fraudulent victory into account will be just enough to keep BYU out of any significant bowl. I would love to see them miss out on a BCS game over just a few votes. That would be just desserts. Don't tell me I don't know anything about football. I don't eat cheetos and I don't drink soda, moron. Just keep on reffing your kid's midget games in Podunk instead of pretending you know anything about football. Thank God Mark May has a spine, unlike the author of this column. Keep up the good work, Mark, and the pressure on the awful crew of gutless officials that worked this fraudulent game. And how about the paying customer's that got robbed of watching the bonus (OT) football that they deserved? As to BYU, I don't see how anyone can feel good about or take pride in such a tainted victory. I want to win fair and square or not at all. Anyone that doesn't feel the same has no business in sports. I don't care if you don't post this, as I'm sure you only post comments favorable to your opinion, judging from your attitude as diplayed in this column.

Paul Chabot
Citrus Heights, CA

September 8, 2008 at 1:45 PM 
Blogger The Write Referee said...

Sorry to disappoint you Paul, but I post all comments that don't cross the line of decency, although your personal attacks of me as a fair journalist tell me the shoe might be on the foot.

Also, the PAC-10 upheld the call today as did the two coaches involved with the game. That's enough to satisfy me. If it's OK with the coaches I'm guessing it's OK with the NCAA.

September 8, 2008 at 3:14 PM 
Anonymous ckemper said...

I agree with Lou Holtz, Mark May, Terry Bowden and the legions of other intelligent commentators that have universally called this one of the worst calls they've ever seen.

In the "spirit" of the rule, Locker didn't violate what the rule was "intended" for!! For unsportsmanlike conduct or excessive celebration. The rule was put in place to thwart people who want to taint the game by showing up the other team.

Locker's reaction to scoring a touchdown with 2 seconds left in the home opener was pure jubilation and excitement. There was no premeditation or malice.

And I agree with Bowden, every rule is up to a referee's discretion otherwise holding could "technically" be called on every play.

I think your time (blog)would've been better spent explaining why this "rule" needs or why the officiating crew needs to turn there cheek on a call when they KNOW the spirit/ intention of the rule they are enforcing was not being violated.

A holding call is a clear cut violation. One player clearly gets the advantage. That is the spirit of the rule, to create FAIR competition.

The celebration rule was put into place because we didn't want players to be unsportsmanlike and taunt opponents!!

The previous, if blatant HAS to be called. And often times if the player is on the other side of the field and the holding infraction was minor, a official probably looks the other way. It has NOTHING to do with the play. If the holding takes place near/ around the play --- obviously that has to get called!!

I think officials (at least good ones) use intelligent discretion all of the time.

There is a saying, let the players decide the outcome of the game!!

In the case of the UW/ BYU game, some can argue the official to some degree altered the outcome of the game. While UW should've executed a longer PAT attempt, there is no valid reason they should be in that situation in the first place.

September 8, 2008 at 11:15 PM 
Anonymous stu mccurdy said...

As a sports official with over 15 years of experience, I recognize that there are some rules that demand absolute enforcement. However, most situations call for judgement by an official. Those situations often include ones that rules makers emphasize as a "mandatory" call by game officials. On the BYU go-ahead touchdown there was a significant celebration in the end zone that was not flagged. The ball that Locker threw into the air was not aimed at BYU, their bench, their players, or their fans in the stands in that end of the stadium. The toss did not cause any particular delay in the game. It did not embarass BYU or the UW. There was absolutely no harm done by Locker's actions. Suddenly, with 2 seconds left, an official decided that the letter of the law was more important than the game, the student athletes, the fans, the institutions involved, and is own integrity. Clearly the rules allowed him to make the call. Clearly this rule is a point of emphasis this year. Still, officials at this level ought to be able to use their judgement about more than just the rules during a contest. BTW, their were 2 seconds left when the kick-off first occurred, but after the offsides penalty only one was put back on the clock. There were so many obvious mistakes by this crew (ask BYU about holding) that the final one was just another instance of their poor performance.

September 8, 2008 at 11:15 PM 
Blogger Rene said...

Amen Stu. Amen!

September 9, 2008 at 2:44 AM 

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