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College Football’s First Controversial Call of 2008 May Have Cost Washington a Huge Upset

Removing University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker from a college football game is like removing Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James from the National Basketball Association, or removing Tom Brady from the National Football League, but that’s what actually happened last Saturday (9-6-08) in Seattle.

A controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Jake Locker was a major topic of conversation over the weekend by fans, coaches, play-by-play announcers, sports commentators and officials in 49 of 50 states. An investigation found that the only state that agreed with the appeal was Utah.

That’s because it was the No. 15-ranked Brigham Young University Cougars who benefited from the call, barely emerging from Husky Stadium with a 28-27 win. Utah is home to BYU.

Pacific-10 Conference umpire Larry Farina equalized the 15-yard penalty on Locker for throwing the ball in the air after scoring a touchdown with 2 seconds left. A successful attempt for extra points in Washington would have tied the game at 28.

The penalty made the Dawg’s extra point attempt a 35-yard effort rather than a 20-yard attempt. More importantly, it rattled off a team of young, inexperienced players, allowing the attempt to be blocked when time expired, ending what could easily have been an overtime game.

We’ll never know if the extra point attempt would have been made from 20 yards out because the referee effectively took the game out of the hands of the players and coaches in favor of interpreting the rulebook to the letter of the law.

Obviously embarrassed by the call for reflection and the reaction from fans and players after the game, referee Larry Farina issued this statement in defense of his appeal:

“It’s a celebratory rule that we’re bound to call. It wasn’t a judgment call,” Farina told media representatives.

National college football officiating coordinator David Perry thought differently. While saying the penalty was correct (per the rules), Perry added that ALL calls are judgment calls. Amen, David, amen.

Jake Locker was clearly not making fun of any BYU player. He did not look at any BYU player, throw the ball at any BYU player, speak to any BYU player or wave to any BYU player. He was just thrilled to score a touchdown on the last possible play of the game to create an opportunity to tie the game and settle the result in overtime.

Even the national college football referee co-ordinator conceded that the penalty could not have been issued had judgment been exercised, saying “I think it is safe to say that in emotional moments officials could become a little more forgiving.”

Of course, Brigham Young’s coach Bronco Mendenhall totally agreed with the call and defended him. Why not? It was in his interest to do so. Even Washington coach Ty Willingham initially accepted the call, taking the referee’s side. On Monday, Willingham, perhaps the nicest, most politically correct and polite coach in college football, had a change of heart.

“I think we all know it wasn’t the right call,” Willingham said. “Good judgment was not used. It was not the act of a young man making fun of it. It was not an unsportsmanlike act at all. It should have been considered in its entirety and not just isolated as the letter of the law.”

Thank you, Ty, for going to bat for your most important player, one of the most exciting and talented players in college football today. Thank you for going to bat for your team, for the University of Washington, and for the fans around the world who responded to the wrongful call.

It’s the officials and the head umpire who set the standard for sportsmanship in any game, and in this case, Larry Farina might have made a better choice.

In the Husky Nation, there is no rest for the weary. Washington, now 0-2 after facing No. 18-ranked Oregon and No. 15-ranked Brigham Young to open the season, will next host No. 3-ranked Oklahoma. Rather than add insult slander by sharing with you how hard it will be for Washington to beat Oklahoma, here’s everything you need to know:

Oklahoma is 783-295-53 in its 114th football season. The Sooners have won 7 Associated Press national championships, 41 conference championships, 24 bowl games, been undefeated 14 times, have an NCAA record 30 (yes, 30) 10-win seasons, and set the NCAA big school record with a 47-game winning streak between 1953 and 1957.

Ouch! Good luck, Washington, and good luck. I will try to remember you in my prayers, knowing that it is fine to pray for victory as if it is up to God, but far better to act as if it is up to you (the Huskies). They find in Oklahoma that the bigger, faster and more talented Sooner players are, the more prayer works in the Dust Bowl.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

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