Officiating suspensions should be start, not end, of response to inexplicable Miami-Duke blunders

ByJohnette Howard via ESPN logo
Monday, November 16, 2015

Unless it wanted to risk being seen as an even bigger laughingstock -- not to mention target of paranoia for gamblers and conspiracy theorists everywhere -- the Atlantic Coast Conference had to admit the officials who botched the wild last play of the Duke-Miami football game Saturday made mistakes. Anybody who's seen the replay of the Hurricanes' eight-lateral kickoff return for a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock can see Miami running back Mark Walton's knee was down before he lateraled to a teammate.

But the two-game suspensions the ACC handed down to the officiating crew and off-field replay official didn't go far enough. ACC commissioner John Swofford released a statement Sunday listing four errors the suspended crew made. But Swofford should've also said he was firing -- not just suspending -- the yet-unnamed booth official who mistakenly upheld the 75-yard score.

And he should've promised to urge the NCAA and its various other football conferences to listen to Duke coach David Cutcliffe's postgame call for some mechanism that can help avoid the sort of blatant mistake that upheld Duke's loss.

"The NCAA should have a process to reverse the outcome of the game," Cutcliffe said in his Sunday news conference. "Nothing has changed other than they realized they got the replay wrong."

There's no point in having instant replay -- which the ACC does -- if the instant replay official also gets a call blatantly wrong.

The ACC named the on-field crew that's been suspended: referee Jerry Magallanes, Terrence Ramsay (umpire), Mike Owens (linesman), Jim Slayton (line judge), Robert Luklan (back judge), Bill Dolbow (field judge), Michael McCarthy (side judge), Tracy Lynch (center judge) and George Burton (replay communicator). But the person in the review booth who blew the call after a nine-minute delay to look ... and look ... and look again at the replay has so far not been named.

Nine minutes? And the call was blown despite myriad replays?

It's inexplicable, unacceptable and more than a little mind-blowing.

"The range of emotions went from one of the happiest moments to one of the most concern and one of the lowest," Miami coach Larry Scott said of his team's mood during the review. "It was a very emotional time for everyone.

"It kept going, it kept going, it kept going -- nine minutes is an eternity in that situation."

It would be different if the play was one of those inconclusive video replays that reasonable people can disagree on. But it was not. Even still photographers produced photos capturing the moment that Walton's knee was down.

Not doing more to remedy the error now would be different if creating some rule to overturn a result created some slippery slope that can't be controlled.

But that needn't be the case, either.

There's already an NCAA rule that says a game can't end on a defensive penalty. The NFL reviews every scoring play in the last two minutes of games.

So why wouldn't the NCAA consider some morning-after rule that allows a football game result to be overturned within 24 hours -- but only the last play of a game -- if the replay official doubles down on the on-field crew's mistake(s) and misses that a player was conclusively down by contact, out of bounds, whatever? It need only be invoked in cases where there was no time left on the clock.

Until then, Swofford's insistence that "The quality of our officiating program is of the highest importance to the league and its schools" is a vow that doesn't have the teeth it could have.

Replay technology is here to stay. But what Saturday's flubs showed is that the way replay is administered can be improved.

Going back and overturning penalty calls such as the blocking penalty that Swofford admitted the crew also missed is meddling too much. So is begrudging Miami's right to have some fun and tweet out a photo of the T-shirts that are already on sale diagramming all eight passes on "The Return."

But on further review, the ACC's and NCAA's instant replay system needs review.

As the NCAA rule book stands now, neither the ACC nor NCAA could overturn Saturday's result even if they wanted to. Rule 1, Section 1, Article 3b states: "When the referee declares that the game is ended, the score is final."

That's not enough reason to do nothing now and risk having more blown games in all the Saturdays and games still to come.

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