Big intersection games need neutral officiating

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last weekend’s


By Neil Rudel


We all know the officiating of the Penn State-Auburn game was maybe the worst we’ve ever seen at Beaver Stadium.

There have been blown calls in the past, certainly, but as far as a body of work — 60 minutes — it was an inexcusable exhibition.

Obviously, the SEC knew it: The conference issued a statement correcting the most embarrassing call — losing track of the downs — on a night when there were a half-dozen situations, calls, spots or non-calls that were mishandled.

The condensed list: The two intentional groundings (one vs. the Nits, the other not called vs. Auburn), denial of a first down on PSU’s fake punt before the whistle was blown, some bad spots, including an early one that wasn’t measured.

At least the SEC can count its blessings that its version of the Keystone Cops didn’t cost the Nittany Lions a victory.

The incompetency did move James Franklin to suggest on Tuesday, “I felt we were fighting more than Auburn.”

When Penn State returns the game next year, Big Ten officials will preside. That’s generally how the big intersectional games are arranged these days.

But with the College Football Playoff and the money that’s now at stake — how one outcome can make or break a team’s CFP chances — these Power-5 conferences need to start thinking about neutral crews.

Just like they do in bowl games — most of which are far less meaningful.

I want to believe officials are honest people who are most important to the game.

However, they’re also human. Auburn wasn’t intimidated by the whiteout, but maybe the officials were.

The late, great Beano Cook long advocated for neutral crews for the intersectional games, and it makes sense.

Just as Penn State felt slighted by the SEC crew, there’s more than subtle pressure on the Big Ten crew that works the game next year.

Even the fourth-quarter call of targeting against Auburn was poor. Maybe that’s what the official saw. You’d hope so. Or maybe he felt like he had to call it because the crew had screwed up the rest of the game.

Either way, it’s a no-win situation. Auburn will see the crew again, or members of it, probably this year. Penn State may only see them again at a bowl game not involving an SEC team (imagine Franklin’s reaction if they get to the CFP and see that gang.)

When the SEC plays the Big Ten, roll out ACC officials or Big 12 officials. If it’s Pac-12 vs. Notre Dame, use the Big Ten refs. It’s not complicated because there aren’t that many high-profile non-conference games.

Way back when intersectional matchups were officiated by zebras from those respective regions, it’s not like Penn State (or whomever handled the assignments) was beyond reproach.

Two of Penn State’s most controversial home games ever — Nebraska in 1982 and Alabama in 1983 — were worked by Eastern officiating crews that happened to include the father of a former Nittany Lion player. He was a good official in a bad spot.

And when Alabama was basically screwed when its tight end was deemed out of the end zone, cementing Penn State’s 34-28 win, enough of a stink was made that the official in question, though he didn’t make the decisive call, didn’t work at Penn State anymore.

It shouldn’t have taken that long.

It’s not only the conflict of interest that is damning. The perception of conflict of interest is, too.

Neutral crews, when appropriate, would solve that.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.


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