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Rudel: Officially, let’s cool it -- calls will balance out

Commentary

November 17, 2012
By Neil Rudel (nrudel@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

The longer the past week went, the more I realized there would be no apology from the Big Ten or confirmation of a key missed call in Penn State's loss to Nebraska.

Given virtually everyone - probably even including the replay official himself - believes Matt Lehman had possession of the ball when he crossed the plane of the goal line, which would have given Penn State a 30-27 lead with seven minutes left, it would have been an admirable gesture.

Especially considering the unusual suffering Penn State's entire camp has endured over the past 53 weeks.

But Big Ten policy precludes discussion of individual calls. The league probably figures if every official was publicly reprimanded for blowing a call, it wouldn't take long to exhaust the pool.

There is a disciplinary process in place for egregious errors, and after reading the interview with ESPN.com (linked on my blog at altoonamirror.com), I would highly doubt the guy, who replays showed was still talking to himself or his colleague after deciding not to reverse it, will be in the saddle for the Big Ten title game.

Unquestionably, Penn State has had some tough and ill-timed calls go against it this year - the mysterious holding call during a punt against Ohio State, the sideline encroachment without warning last week, the fact that no one ever seems to hold the Nittany Lions.

And it's not new. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten 20 years ago, the demand for zebra hunting licenses around central Pennsylvania has increased.

Some of it has been understandable. During Michigan's first trip to Beaver Stadium in 1993, Penn State was penalized for excessive crowd noise and watched in disbelief a few years later when a retiring Big Ten referee was honored at halftime at Michigan Stadium.

After a series of calls went against the Lions in 2002, Joe Paterno lobbied for an investigation of the league's officiating practices - when Penn State should have been investigating other things, obviously.

Once the league did institute instant replay in 2003, Penn State's suspicions rose when most of the reviews initially favored the Lions.

And after losing a gut-wrenching game in the last second at Michigan in 2005, Paterno later confided that he considered recommending PSU leave the Big Ten. (That remains a viable topic, but who's supposed to lead it - the interim president or the acting athletic director?)

This is not to suggest that the Big Ten doesn't need to continue to address officiating issues.

One rub here is the level of intolerance toward referees. Why it is OK for a quarterback to throw pick-6, for defensive backs to drop interceptions and for the coaches to let the play clock expire, but officials aren't allowed to make an occasional mistake?

And don't you think every school that has played as many big games as Penn State can remember its share of bad calls?

Maybe I don't want to believe in a conspiracy here because I believe in the good of sports. Certainly there are provincial officials, and home crowds can influence calls, but I want to believe the vast majority of referees would prefer not to influence the outcome.

I've seen many bad calls, but there was only one time I can honestly say I saw an official cheating. And that's when St. Francis was playing a basketball exhibition game, in 1990, against a Russian traveling team at the Johnstown War Memorial.

The Russians brought one official with them, and St. Francis provided two from its NCAA pool. The Russian official was making so many calls for his team that the two NCAA officials smirked in disbelief and subtly tried to steer the game back to some semblance of order.

Penn State fans frustrated today were once used to most of the key calls going their way. Ask Maryland and Nebraska in 1982. Or Alabama in '83. All suffered late-game blown calls - all at Beaver Stadium.

The Eastern officials' association didn't stop assigning Don Guman, the father of former Lion player Mike Guman, to Penn State games until Ray Perkins' fury over Alabama being denied an apparent game-winning touchdown in 1983. Guman didn't make the call, but he was on the crew.

In 2002, when Paterno was complaining, he lamented about the lack of officials from Pennsylvania on the Big Ten roster and noted that one of them, former Nittany Lion receiver Bob Bassett who has climbed the officiating ladder, "can't get a [Penn State] game."

Complaints about referees have been around as long as the game itself.

In 1969, legendary Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder was upset following a 15-14 loss to Penn State and noted there were three officials from Pennsylvania on the game. (Schwartzwalder didn't mention the other three were probably from New York.)

Does that mean they were biased? No. Did they have their best games? Maybe not.

On and off the field, there's no doubt Nittany Lion fans have had their patience exhausted lately with all officials - Big Ten officials, NCAA officials, Penn State's own officials.

But a conspiracy? Makes for good copy, but I'm not ready to believe it.

Now ... who is Penn State playing today?

Oh, Indiana.

Enjoy the game. Or at least try to.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

 
 

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