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Ohio State of anger: It’s time to reform replay on pass interference

Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

Yes, instant replay across all sports — not just in college football — remains plagued by ample instances of replay evaluators failing to make correct calls. We saw this in the National League Championship Series a few days ago, when Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers clearly scored a run. The tag applied by Chicago Cub catcher Willson Contreras to Gonzalez’s face was tardy. Gonzalez’s fingers touched home plate before the face-tag.

MLB headquarters upheld the erroneous out call made by the home-plate umpire.

This was a situation in which the on-field official erred, and replay was in perfect position to correct the mistake.

When replay fails to correct obvious mistakes, fans rightly get angry. They ask the only salient question: “If replay doesn’t work, why have it?”

This is the constant uphill battle replay — and its defenders — face in this modern age of sports. Why have all these delays of action if they’re not going to get calls right?

It is with this in mind that one must turn to the Ohio State-Penn State endgame from Saturday.

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First, let’s acknowledge the irony and (if you live in Miami or Ann Arbor) the humor of the situation, as mentioned by USA Today college football columnist Dan Wolken, in a well-played tweet from Saturday night:

Now that we’ve had our chuckle, let’s calmly deal with the cover photo for this story, which you can see at the top of the page.

You can see the arm of Penn State defender Jordan Smith clamp down on the arm of Ohio State receiver James Clark before the ball arrives. The freeze frame makes it obvious that, by the letter of the rule, defensive pass interference was in fact committed. This is not in dispute. Much the same thing happened last Sunday (October 16) in the NFL, when Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks grabbed the arm of Atlanta Falcon receiver Julio Jones on a fourth-down pass in the final moments of a 26-24 game led (and ultimately won) by Seattle.

Some fans will wonder why pass interference wasn’t called. The inference is that of course officials should have seen and called these plays.

The key point of emphasis for Ohio State fans and all football fans is that we — as a college football community and as a sports community (for Dodger fans still steamed about the missed Gonzalez safe-out call) — have to get past the idea that officials are inept for missing these and other kinds of bang-bang calls. 

Yes, officials make really bad calls from time to time, but for the most part, they handle the basic calls extremely well. Sports, though, have become so physical and so blindingly fast that a lot of calls are simply hard to make with the naked eye in real time. It’s often not a ref’s fault that a call is missed; it’s plainly difficult to make said call, which is why we have 21st-century technology to aid us.

Replay is not an indictment — suggested or explicit or otherwise — of officials. Replay is a helper. The existence of replay is not a way of saying, “Boy, officials really suck. We need something to override them.” NO! It’s a way of adjudicating calls in sports that are far more difficult to follow than they might have been in 1955 or 1935, when they were played at a slower pace and involved a lot less complexity.

To underscore this central point, consider this photo provided by Rodger Sherman of SB Nation, who has written about why pass interference calls get missed. (Follow and read his tweets from Saturday night on the subject.)

The arm of the Ohio State receiver which was grabbed is the inside arm. The official with the sideline view has no way of seeing the grab. Sherman’s lockdown of Jones’s left arm in Seahawks-Falcons a week ago was similar.

These are not plays officials should be expected to call correctly in real time. Some action in all sports will occur out of an official’s field of vision. At the very least, it cannot be guaranteed that one official will ALWAYS and unerringly have the right view of a play. Maybe 94 percent of the time, but not 100.

This is why replay is supposed to exist.

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The final point to be made here is that unlike holding — which occurs in a massive pile of bodies and is therefore very hard to see in many instances — pass interference occurs in a one-on-one context in the open field. It is not always easy to call in real time, but it is comparatively easier to identify on replay, either calls or non-calls of the penalty.

Moreover, we know that pass interference is one of the most important and game-deciding calls in the sport. (Recall the TCU-Baylor game in 2014, among dozens of other examples various fan bases and historians will provide.) If there’s any call which should be reviewable but currently isn’t — at LEAST in the last two minutes of halves — pass interference is it.

It’s long past time — not just for Ohio State fans, but all football fans (and coaches and players) — to make pass interference reviewable in college football.

The big reminder: This reform should occur not because officials are bad at their jobs — they aren’t. It’s because officials need all the help they can get.

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