I watched Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops’ weekly press conference Tuesday, where he was asked about an inevitable subject: His team’s return to a Pac-10 stadium (Saturday at Washington) for the first time since the Sooners’ irreversibly tainted game at Oregon two years ago.
A reporter asked if a Pac-10 officiating crew would be working the game. “Yes,” Stoops replied as brusquely as possible. When somebody followed up about whether the Oregon game “still sticks in his craw,” Stoops fidgeted a little and put on a non-convincing smile while responding: “If it does or not, I’m not going to talk about it. … [It was] too long ago.”
You can’t blame Stoops for being a little edgy about the subject. Two years ago, his team was the victim of the most egregious officiating error in recent history -- the infamous “replay review” that somehow concluded Oregon had recovered an onside kick it quite clearly did not.
In the furor over the incident, it was revealed that the Pac-10 has an official policy requiring its schools to utilize a conference officiating crew for all home games. At the time, Stoops threatened to pull out of Saturday’s Washington trip if the policy was not changed.
It wasn’t, but OU is still honoring its contract. And now it’s walking into the same stadium where, just last week, another Pac-10 officiating crew created a national uproar, albeit at the home team’s expense.
As I wrote last weekend, I’m among the minority who feel the rule, not the ref, was the true source of injustice in the Jake Locker ball toss. While many (including Tyrone Willingam) have argued that referee Larry Farina should have used his own better judgment and ignored the “throwing the ball high in the air” rule, the fact is, all refs answer to supervisors who scrutinize their every call.
But then I read Jon Wilner’s alarming blog entry Wednesday about the Pac-10’s credibility crisis. Do you know who the Pac-10’s coordinator of officials – e.g., Farina’s boss -- is? It’s Dave Cutaia, who in 2006 served as the head official for the OREGON-OKLAHOMA game!
Farina, meanwhile, has his own sordid past. He was the head official for last season’s Washington-Oregon State game, in which the refs lost control of the game so badly that the entire crew was suspended from working a bowl game.
With so much at stake in these games -- potential bowl bids, championships and, in Willingham’s case, possibly his job -- how can the Pac-10 continue to run its officiating division like it’s a circus show? Is the league really that oblivious to just how badly its credibility gets stained every time the rest of the country gets exposed to these shenanigans?
Chances are, Saturday’s game will not be anywhere close enough to be decided by a single call, but if I were Stoops, I wouldn’t take any chances. Pull an Urban Meyer in the final minutes if need be, because clearly, these guys are capable of screwing up just about anything.