The Cougars are ranked 14th and the Huskies 15th, but the Pac-12’s handling of a controversy involving a replay non-call is just plain rank. Looking at you, Commissioner Larry Scott.
Beyond the 27-13 win over Colorado, news kept getting better for Washington football over the weekend. Later on Saturday, Washington State throttled Oregon 34-20 in Pullman, prompting a drain on statewide liquor sales that likely kept many UW players and most of Western Washington sober Saturday night.
The Ducks’ second conference loss means that the Huskies (6-2, 4-1) and Cougars (6-1, 3-1) are in the lead for the Pac-12 North Division title that, should both win out, would mean the Nov. 23 Apple Cup would be fraught with meaning, as well as unkempt behavior.
The Cougars leaped from 25th to 14th in the Associated Press poll Sunday, one spot ahead of the Huskies, offering coach Chris Petersen a rare chance to play the underdog card.
But Petersen was his usual cat-in-a-bucket-of-water self when it came to getting ahead of things, or even giving WSU coach Mike Leach bouquets for saving a Huskies season that looked ambushed after the 30-27 OT defeat a week earlier in Eugene.
“I’ll just say that there’s so much football left to play,” Petersen said at his weekly Monday presser. “You worry about somebody else and you don’t take care of your own business. The main thing is, we won. Certainly how that game (WSU over Oregon) went probably helped us. But it doesn’t help much if we don’t take care of ourselves this weekend.”
That would be 3:3o p.m. Saturday (FS1) in Berkeley against a Cal team that is 4-3, but has only one conference win, 49-7 win over Division IV Oregon State. Washington is a 10½-point favorite to do something similar to what it did a year ago — win 33-7 by holding the Bears to 93 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, news for the rest of the Pac-12 is not as good.
Following a 1-8 performance in the bowls the past winter, the conference this season already has been unofficially eliminated from consideration for the four-team College Football Playoffs for the second year in a row. The mere fact that the Cougars are the conference’s highest-ranked team — something that hasn’t happened since 2002 when the Cougars were No. 3 entering the Apple Cup — tells all that needs to be known nationally.
Even if the Cougars ran the table, their non-conference schedule — wins over Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington — is sufficiently laughable to get a gig on Comedy Central, but not a look from the selection committee.
The league’s credibility took a further hit last week when a Yahoo! Sports report revealed that the replay department mysteriously failed to make an obvious targeting call against USC’s Porter Gustin on Cougars QB Gardner Minshew in the Sept. 21 game that turned into WSU’s only loss.
The decision to not impose a foul came from Woodie Dixon, the league’s top lawyer, who is not a trained official, nor was he present at league headquarters where the replay outfit resides. But he telephoned into the office and apparently ordered the non-call to stand.
In a series of texts to Dixon and Commissioner Larry Scott, disclosed by Yahoo! after a public records request, a furious Leach ripped the conference a new one, calling Dixon a coward, fearful of USC.
Wrote Leach to Dixon: “Don’t ever waste my time, making me sit through some sanctimonious speech or demonstration on player safety or targeting if you are going to continue to alibi what happened last Friday.”
Leach wrote in a text message to Scott: “The Pac-12 cannot say with any credibility, that they are actually trying to protect student athletes.”
As the controversy swirled over the integrity of officiating, Scott, to his credit, met with reporters at halftime of the games in Seattle and Pullman — a frequent-flyer move of high distinction — to try to explain what happened. But the credit began to dissolve as his explanation sounded more worthy of the Saudi royal family.
Scott laid it off to a “breakdown in protocol” and a “miscommunication” between Dixon and replay officials.
“There were two mistakes,” he told reporters at Husky Stadium. “One is ambiguity about who has the final call when it comes to replay. The second involves someone (Dixon) in the process who was supposed to be in a support role. The optics could be a conflict of interest.
“The mistake was the design of it, so I take responsibility for that.”
None of that explains how a league could have gone this long with an ambiguous replay policy that Scott earlier told The Oregonian “wasn’t written down,” which is another surprising mystery. And it left open the possibility of shenanigans previous to the WSU non-call.
“Up until this, there’s never been a question of who makes the call — it’s the replay supervisor,” Scott insisted. He said he interviewed Dixon and the replay supervisor, who said there had been no previous episode involving pressure or persuasion. “According to (Dixon), it was a misinterpretation or miscommunication, where replay officials thought he was telling them to not put on targeting. The supervisors were inclined to put it in, but that wasn’t his intention.
“The fact that there was confusion indicates to me a problem.”
That certainly is true. Scott said procedures have been changed, presumably meaning that Dixon, whose job responsibilities include football operations, will no longer be a final arbiter.
Then again, one would presume that was always the case, as well as presuming that the policy was written down, and that the policy would have precluded someone calling in, perhaps from a loud bar, to decide an outcome.
Asked whether he was concerned or didn’t care about what he’s learned about the episode, Petersen ran away from the issue, wet-cat style.
“I got enough problems,” he said. “Hopefully they get that fixed. I’m sure they will.”
Petersen went on to explain the difficulties in administering and teaching the new rules on targeting. That’s all true, but beside the point. The point is that if player health and safety is paramount in the Pac-12, they can’t be having staffers from HR or IT or custodial or the legal department randomly calling up and saving USC some penalty yards.
One of Petersen’s pet phrases is how hard it is to win a game in the Pac-12. Suddenly, I have greater respect for its meaning, knowing the conference is operated occasionally out of the musty trunk of a 1953 Buick Bulgemobile.