From the Stands

Playoff controversy: HS and college

The high school football playoffs are in the closing stage in Oklahoma, and the participants in the first four-team college playoff will be chosen next week—and controversy is a key element in both.

Official botch-up

The Oklahoma high school playoffs have had some exciting games, but a botch-up by officials in the Class 3A quarterfinal game between Douglass and Locust Grove has put a dark, apparently non-erasable, smudge on the playoffs.

Sadly, the situation should never have occurred. But it did. The five-man officiating crew misapplied a rule and, in so doing, deprived Douglass of a touchdown that likely would have resulted in a win for Douglass and a loss for Locust Grove.

Usually, controversy involving officials hinges on judgment calls, such as pass interference, holding, etc. These depend on the official’s judgment of whether a rule has been violated. Such controversy is not an error of the official’s not knowing the rules or applying them incorrectly. That was not the case in the Douglass vs. Locust Grove game.

On the play in question, a fourth-down play with just over a minute left in the game, Douglass scored a touchdown. An official threw a flag against Douglass for a sideline infraction during the play. By National Federation of State High School Association rules, which govern Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, a non-player foul, as this was, is treated as a dead-ball foul and the five-yard penalty is assessed at the end of the play. Since the Douglass play resulted in a touchdown, by rule the play should have stood and Locust Grove been offered the option of taking the penalty on the extra-point try or on the kickoff.

Instead, after conferring, the game officials nullified the TD and marked off the penalty from the previous line of scrimmage. In addition, Douglass was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for arguing the original penalty. Douglass replayed its fourth down and failed to convert.

The OSSAA has since apologized for the error and said that the officials are being reprimanded and not allowed to officiate any more playoff games this season. As appropriate and justified as this is, it does nothing to correct the injustice that resulted. Of course, questions abound. How could a crew deemed qualified to officiate a playoff game not know correct application of the rule? Did all five officials not know the rule? Did they disagree in their conference and decide to go with majority opinion?

Whatever the questions or answers, it appears that the result will stand. The OSSAA said that rules do not allow a protest of a game based on an officiating error. Although there is some public outcry for a replay of the end of the game, chances appear to be zero that this would happen.

Basically, it appears that those involved are learning one of life’s toughest lessons: life is not always fair, and the unfairness is not always your fault.

Unfortunately, Douglass players will be convinced for the rest of their lives that they were robbed, that they should have won the game; and Locust Grove players will always know that others think their victory was tainted.

Unfortunate, very unfortunate.

BCS backers were wrong

Remember the Bogus College System or whatever BCS stood for? Maybe it was Bi-Carbonate of Soda, which is what most of us often felt like we needed. Oh, I remember now, it was the Bowl Championship Series, which, of course, was a misnomer. It was a “championship” game between two teams selected in some sort of voting/polls/computer process perhaps understood by someone somewhere. In any event, it was not a series; neither team played a series of games to reach the championship.

Interestingly, some staunch supporters of that now-defunct system praised it as making the regular season more exciting and, in effect, a series of playoff games and predicted that the BCS replacement, the new playoff system, would diminish the importance and excitement of the regular season.

In a word—hogwash.

They were so wrong. Instead, this season has been more exciting, created more of a playoff atmosphere for the regular season, and increased the importance of late-season games. In addition, the level of controversy has heightened. Can anyone really believe that the new playoff system isn’t more exciting and fun?

Some fans may have ideas for improving the new system, but I doubt that many want to go back to the BCS. I would favor two changes: go to an eight-team playoff and have the selection committee meet only once to announce its standings.

An eight-team playoff, which lower NCAA divisions and NAIA members have had success with for years, is a possibly in the future. It’s just not going to happen immediately. However, I expect support for it to grow steadily.

Having the selection committee meet once and announce the playoff teams like the NCAA does for basketball’s March Madness has a next-to-zero chance of happening. Why not? Money. One key reason is the heavily involvement of ESPN. The network’s fingers reach far into this pie and too much revenue is there to be generated with the committee making weekly announcements of its current team rankings. The bowls also fear financial loss, and ESPN is a significant player in maintaining their financial success.

Am happy for the new four-team playoff and am awaiting with interest the announcement of the four teams.

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