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December 29, 2005

SCS.comRarely is this website eager to criticize those who play and work these games we love, but after watching Wednesday night's Alamo Bowl played by Michigan and Nebraska, but controlled more often that not by an incompetent officiating crew, I feel the need to vent some frustration.

As ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico pointed out during the broadcast, this was possibly the worst officiated game I can ever remember. Time and time again, the on-the-field referees, as well as the replay booth official, failed to do the job that they are paid to do. One would think that when we have postseason bowl games, which in many ways are like all-star games that reward the good players and teams for their effort throughout the season, that we could be blessed with an all-star officiating crew. Or at least one that knows what they're doing.

Instead we were stuck with a bush league set of striped-shirts that showed no consistency nor accuracy in a number of their calls. On two occassions, Wolverine head coach Lloyd Carr was forced to burn one of his team's second half timeouts to allow for the replay official time to signal for a review of a play. One play was overturned in the Wolves' favor; the second was not due to inconclusive evidence. And even when the officials corrected one mistake on a touchdown call that was wrong, they then spotted the ball on the wrong hashmark and allowed Nebraska to kick the ensuing field goal from that point. Imagine the uproar if that attempt had been missed!

A number of other times throughout the game, the replay official upstairs failed to "buzz" the on-the-field crew to stop the game and look at a replay on close calls. Again, I second what Mike Tirico said on air: if you're going to have replay, why not use it? It's a waste of time to all involved if not employed properly.

There was also the time when Nebraska was charged with "interfering with the opportunity to make the catch" on a punt, when in fact Wolverine punt returner Steve Breaston made the catch! Obviously unbeknownst to the officiating crew, college football's halo rule no longer exists. How can you be interfering with a returner's opportunity to catch the ball if he in fact catches it?

As the clock was winding down well under a minute before a Nebraska punt on fourth down, the umpire - rather than trotting over to retrive the ball and return it to its location inside the hash marks - causually walked to the ball and then strolled back to the middle of the field to set it down. Then what did the referee adorned in the white hat do? He waited ten seconds after the ball was placed on the ground to actually roll the clock, in effect costing Michigan that same number of seconds on their final drive.

And finally, just when you think it's over at last, you realize it's not. Michigan, with just seconds remaining on the clock, began attempting a number of lateral passes to keep the game alive. The play started around the 35 yard line, moved ahead as far as midfield, then retreated to the 20. At this point, the entire Nebraska team races onto the field, thinking the contest is over. Are they flagged for entering the field of play while the game is still proceeding. No! Why not? Good question.

As ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said, Sun Belt referees are used to officiating games played by the likes of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Florida International. While meaning no offense to any of those schools or others in the Sun Belt Conference, none can match up to the physical speed and ability of players like those from Nebraska and Michigan. It's an entirely different level of football.

To place a group of unqualified, inept officials on the field for a game like we saw Wednesday night is disrespectful to the players, coaches, and fans of both teams...not to mention all of college football fans in general. Whoever made the decision to send that group of referees to that game should be ashamed, and the Sun Belt Conference should also be embarrassed at the incompetence of their employees.

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