Canzano: Pac-12 officials need to say less
Some things I learned...
I was in Salt Lake City on Saturday night for a wild college football game. Utah drove the length of the field on its final possession, scored a touchdown with 39 seconds left and announced it had no interest in overtime.
The Utes went for a two-point conversion.
Final: Utah 43, USC 42.
I started reporting and writing my game column. Fans stormed the field. Within a few minutes, coaches on both teams stormed Pac-12 Conference officials.
USC coach Lincoln Riley said, “The officiating was really bad tonight... but we still should have won the game.”
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said he was baffled with the game clock during the final 13 seconds of the game. Utah intercepted USC quarterback Caleb Williams, but was flagged for pass interference. The Trojans retained possession and the clock was inexplicably reset to 00:13.
“That could have very well, could have cost us the game,” Whittingham said. “We intercept the ball, we’re running back, I see the clock stop, then it starts up again, then it stops again during the play. After it’s all said and done they put more time on than there was at any point during that sequence.
“Apparently, the explanation I got was an inadvertent whistle or an inadvertent stoppage of play by the ref, which would have stopped the clock right there. But it was definitely a mistake because the interception was in progress.”
Referee Mark Duddy flipped on the public-address microphone after the play, announced the penalty, and asked the clock operator to reset the game clock to 13 seconds. He noted, “a timeout signal was given during the play.”
During the play?
Duddy and his crew have a difficult job to do. They’re doing their best and trying to get the calls right. But they fumbled that one. I have no problem with an official making a judgement call, but don’t think the referee helped his cause with his clumsy public explanation.
Pac-12 officials need to be better — and say less.
USC fans are upset with a couple of personal fouls called late in the game. FOX television commentator Brock Huard blistered the officiating crew over a roughing the passer play that extended a Utah drive.
Decide for yourself whether it was roughing or not. But Riley — the USC coach — was spot on. The Trojans didn’t lose because of the officiating. They allowed Utah to score touchdowns on five of its six second-half offensive possessions.
That said, the brand of Pac-12 officiating is broken.
Bad calls happen in other conferences, but the public perception is that the Pac-12 has less-competent officials. I left the stadium on Saturday night thinking the crew working the game probably got most of the calls right, but killed themselves when they opened the PA microphone and tried to explain themselves.
It’s systemic. The whole thing needs an overhaul. Commissioner George Kliavkoff and supervisor of football, Merton Hanks, should take a deeper look.
• Replace David Coleman — The Pac-12’s head of officials is a nice guy, but he’s badly under-qualified. The conference should re-assign Coleman to a more suitable role and bring in a more experienced supervisor. Change is needed.
• Establish a consortium — Big Sky Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill told me that he’d love to partner with the Pac-12 on an officiating pipeline. The two conferences already do it with basketball officials, but not in football. Without a pipeline and consistent training, the Pac-12 is left to piece together its crews using officials from around the country that are not familiar with each other.
One current Pac-12 referee told me that officials the Pac-12 got from other conferences in the last two seasons “aren’t trained well.”
• Media training — The “white hat” referees aren’t helping themselves when they open the microphone at games. The referees are essentially spokespeople for Pac-12 officiating. They’re on the field, sorting out penalties, facilitating the games, running around, and then, they flip on the public-address microphone to explain a call.
On Saturday, as Duddy explained the game-clock issue, he sounded unsure. During a couple of reviews during the game, he rambled when he should have probably just said nothing. His words raised doubt. You and I may disagree with a flag or three, but we all know the key to selling a call publicly is to be decisive, informed and confident. Open the mic, know what you’re going to say, and then, say it.
It’s a systemic problem, folks. The whole thing is part of the hangover from the Larry Scott era when the ex-commissioner undermined public trust. I’m not sure Kliavkoff and Hanks grasp the scope, in part, because they weren’t around when the officiating brand began deteriorating in the middle of the 2014 season.
I’ve talked with a number of current and former Pac-12 Conference officials. They’re not happy, either. They feel vilified. The Big Ten has made inquiries with some of the Pac-12’s top officials. I wonder how many of the good ones will decide to jump when USC and UCLA leave in 2024.
A few other things…
• PICTURE IT: I hired a team of photographers this season to shoot Pac-12 games. If you aren’t checking out the photo galleries, you’re missing some fun theater. The football shots are amazing, but part of the assignment on game day is capturing the feel of the stadium (fans, bands, mascots, tailgating…). There’s nothing like a live sporting event.
Washington State at Oregon State (Tim Healy)
USC at Utah (Rob Gray)
Oregon at Arizona (Michael Christy)
Oregon State at Utah (Rob Gray)
Oregon at Washington State (Iain Crimmins)
USC at Oregon State (Serena Morones)
Oregon State at Montana State (Tim Healy)
BYU at Oregon (Serena Morones and Taylor Balkom)
Eastern Washington at Oregon (Serena Morones)
Oregon vs. Georgia (Serena Morones)
• SOUNDING OFF: SEC commissioner Greg Sankey joined the “Canzano & Wilner” podcast for an all-new episode. Sankey had strong views on media rights, realignment and the Pac-12. But it’s what he said about the college football playoff that caught my attention.
Said Sankey: “People will say ‘if you expand, you’re going to hurt the regular season.’ My view is the four-team playoff has impacted the regular season. When teams are out of it at this point of the season and their fan base views it that way I don’t think that’s healthy. We have to understand that any postseason impacts the regular season.”
Sankey said the four-team playoff is working well for the SEC, which has won five of the eight College Football Playoff championships. But he said an expansion was in the best interest of the game.
Listen to the full podcast with Sankey here:
• BIG GAME: No. 10 Oregon hosts No. 9-ranked UCLA on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. It’s the Pac-12’s first head-to-head matchup between two top-10 teams since the 2018 Apple Cup. No. 10 Washington beat No. 7 Washington State in Pullman that day.
ESPN’s College GameDay is going to be on the scene in Eugene on Saturday. And the University of Oregon’s Greg Walker tells me the Autzen Stadium press box will be at or near capacity.
Said Walker: “There won't be many open seats.”
• FUN TIMES: On Saturday, as noted, I was in Salt Lake City for USC-Utah. I filed my game column well after 11 p.m. and walked out of the stadium with Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde. We talked for a while and parted ways on the sidewalk outside the stadium.
Forde headed to his rental car. I’d summoned Uber. The wind was howling. It must have been blowing 35 mph outside Rice-Eccles Stadium. I decided to take shelter in a bus-stop kiosk away from the stadium that had large glass panels on three sides.
Still, I was freezing.
When the game kicked off, it was sunny and 68 degrees with winds at 10 mph. I’d worn a short-sleeved button-up shirt. Now, it was dark, cold, and I suddenly remembered that I had a spare T-shirt and sweatshirt in my bag. So I took off my “work” shirt and started to change. As I did, the wind kicked up, ripped the shirt out of my hands, and sent it tumbling down the street.
I chased after it, shirtless.
I ran after it, eventually caught up, stomped my foot on it, trapping the shirt on the pavement in the middle of the street, and picked it up. The shirt now has a giant footprint on it.
I changed. My Uber eventually showed up and I went back to my hotel. Then, I started watching film of Oregon State’s 24-10 win over Washington State. It was a terrific victory for the Beavers and a big game for Jonathan Smith. I was so impressed with the performance that I decided on the spot to write a column about the Beavers big win.
I finished it at 4 a.m.
Then, I set my alarm for 6:15 a.m. and went to bed.
Woke up. Showered. Uber. Airport. Then, once I was in my seat on the 8:15 a.m. flight, I checked my email. I was mentally and physically exhausted. But what I found waiting for me as the plane taxied away from the Salt Lake City airport terminal was a pile of uplifting emails from subscribers
One wrote: “Your columns are a joy to read. I love that you’re free to go where the stories take you now.”
Another commented: “Thank you for making this football season so much fun.”
A third noted: “I just have a different feeling when I read your descriptions, especially when you write about special people in your life.”
I’m humbled and inspired by the feedback. I’m having a lot of fun with this new writing endeavor. Those who read me know I’ve found some joy here.
It doesn’t much feel like work.
Not on deadline. Not at midnight with the canyon winds hissing. Not even, as I’m chasing my shirt down the street, weighing whether I should just let it go. It was a ridiculous late-night scene. But as I ran after that shirt, I had a smile on my face.
I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared my new, independent, endeavor with friends and families. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing. Your support allows me to go where the stories take us.
Officials from every conference make mistakes. It comes with the territory.
My biggest complaint with PAC officials is that they make themselves an integral part of the game. Yes, the majority of their calls are technically correct but like basketball officials that start blowing the whistle on every ticky tack call, you can really ruin the game flow and enjoyment of a game by getting whistle happy and boy oh boy to PAC officials like to do that. I like the motto that the best officiating is officiating you hardly notice. Never the case in the PAC.
I live in Dallas and watch a lot of Big 12 football, and your comments about the Pac 12 officiating match the exact thoughts of fans here about Big 12 officials. They consistently fall short of reasonable expectations, and they really struggle to explain some of the bad decisions. This problem is bigger than just one conference. I love the idea of building the pipeline with smaller conferences. Hoping that happens in both conferences soon.