Part One: Officiating
When USC football joined the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) in 1922, they had no idea what it would eventually become. It eventually reformed into the Athletic Association of Western Universities in 1959. By 1968, the AAWU changed their name to the more familiar Pacific-8 (Pac-8). Ten years later, it was renamed again to the Pac-10. That was the precursor to the current Pac-12— the same Pac-12 that is detrimental for USC.
Being in the Pac-12 has its benefits— a laid out path to the Rose Bowl, historic conference rivalry games, and extra media exposure. Are these benefits worth the problems though?
Officiating has long been a problem in the Pac-10/12. In the final year of the Pac-10, USC and Stanford played a nail-biting game that kept going back and forth until the clock hit zero. Nate Whitaker hit a last second field goal to win the game, putting a poetically bad next chapter of conference play.
Two back to back games, losing on a field goal as time expires? It sounds too bad to be true. And it was not true— or at least it should not have been. It turns out Stanford’s clock operator stopped the clock from running, preserving time for Stanford to kick the field goal. The clock operator, unsurprisingly, was a Stanford employee. Worse, the officials allowed it to happen. The conference commissioner, Larry Scott, acknowledged there was a mistake but did little else.
At the end of the season, the Pac-12 removed 11 officials from their crews since they “earned an unhappy reputation for officiating faux pas in recent seasons.”
A year later, head coach Lane Kiffin and his USC team run into more officiating problems against Stanford at the Coliseum. Another clock controversy brewed during the tied game. Kiffin wanted a timeout with one second left on the clock,but the officials would not allow it and announced that the game was going into overtime. In this instance, the call was debatable. After the game, Kiffin criticized the referees. Instead of looking into the issue, the Pac-12’s solution was to fine Kiffin $10,000 for daring to question their authority.
Before that game could even be tied up, USC safety T.J. McDonald was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting an allegedly defenseless receiver. The subjective call happened on third-and-6 at the Stanford 40-yard line when Stanford receiver, Chris Owusu, dropped a pass while falling down. McDonald was already going in for the tackle and inadvertently hit Owusu in the head. The controversial call refreshed Stanford’s downs, allowing Andrew Luck to drive the ball down the field for a touchdown. While the call was, again, debatable, the ensuing suspension was outrageous. A CBS Sports blog writer explained (with a video attached) the suspension was unwarranted.
Earlier in the same season, USC and Utah played the first ever Pac-12 game. The game, yet again, came down to the final seconds and ended in a mess. The final score was in dispute from when the last flag was thrown until hours later when the Pac-12 finally looked into it. The whole gaffe could easily have been avoided with better communication from the officials. The whole situation caused a huge controversy in Las Vegas sports betting.
Fast forward to 2013. Controversial endings and officiating gaffes still have not gone out of style with the Pac-12 officials. In inter-conference matchup, Wisconsin represented the Big Ten against Arizona State from the Pac-12. In the closing moments of the game, the Pac-12 officials failed to do their job multiple times. After the poorly officiated last 18 seconds, they walked off the field as if nothing happened. The Pac-12 reprimanded them afterwards, but that does nothing for Wisconsin’s loss.
Just for laughs:
A Pac-12 referee in a game between Ohio State and Cal seems to have no idea what he is doing
And this is just in football. Don’t forget about Ed Rush. But back to football.
Out of the 120 FBS teams in 2011, all but two Pac-12 teams (USC at 53 and Utah at 58) ranked in the bottom half of penalties per game. Six teams were in the bottom 20. Note that this is the season immediately after the removal of 11 officials. The penalty numbers hardly changed in 2012. In the 124 FBS that season, 11 Pac-12 teams ranked in the bottom half (Arizona State was the lone outlier sitting at 12) of penalties per game and again six teams were in the bottom 20. Even more shocking was that five teams were in the bottom ten. Are the Pac-12 teams just some of the most undisciplined in the nation? Or are there serious problems with Pac-12 officiating?
Officiating has the power to decide outcomes of games. If the Pac-12 wants to be known nationally as part of the elite, then it needs to improve its officiating.
This is part one of a series on the Pac-12’s effect on USC. More will be released soon.