Terry Porter was right.
Six and a half months after the most controversial call of the Bowl Championship Series era, the Big 12 field judge has been vindicated.
That's not going to please Miami players, fans and coaches who are still grinding their teeth over Porter's decision to signal pass interference against Miami defensive back Glenn Sharpe in the Fiesta Bowl.
|Miami's Glenn Sharpe and Ohio State's Chris Gamble jump for the ball in the end zone.(Getty Images)|
The problem is, few people saw the actual infraction. All the replays focused on Sharpe jumping for a ball in the end zone intended for Ohio State receiver Chris Gamble.
The penalty occurred on fourth-and-3 from the Miami 5 in the first overtime of Ohio State's 31-24 victory. At the line of scrimmage, Sharpe tried to "jam" Gamble and impeded his progress. When the official who apparently had the call in the end zone didn't make one, Porter came rushing from the back of the end zone to throw the flag four or five seconds after the play had ended.
"The timing of the flag might have looked not good," said Dave Parry, the Big Ten supervisor of officials, who works with the NCAA. "Terry was probably trying to be very thorough. He signaled a push for a defensive pass interference, then a signal for holding. There is a time lapse there. When the camera showed it they didn't see the line of scrimmage. They saw the downfield play about 7 or 8 yards."
Porter has been the subject of Miami fans' message board rants for months since the call. Miami's stance seems to be that while the call might have been right, it was inexcusable that Porter waited those pregnant seconds before throwing the flag after running from the back of the end zone.
"I replayed it in my mind," Porter said after the game. "I wanted to make double-sure that it was the right call."
Without saying it was the case, Parry said this week there could have been a "small, small little downgrade" in Porter's evaluation for shoddy mechanics in waiting so long to make the call. Crews are assigned to the national championship game on a rotating basis. The crews are "all-stars" made up of the best official at each position in that conference.
A Big 12 crew was supposed to do the 2002 Rose Bowl but was delayed a year when Nebraska made the game. That allowed Porter and his mates a chance at the Fiesta Bowl. What bothered Porter and the Big 12 was a report that two letters of apology had been sent to conference schools after games Porter worked.
The Big 12 was upset by the report. Porter, a Stillwater, Okla., food broker, denied that was the case.
"I ain't talking about (the call)," Porter said brusquely this week when reached by phone. "You can call the Big 12 office."
Big 12 supervisor of officials Tim Millis, an NFL official himself, said this year that Porter would be NFL material if he were younger. Porter is in his mid-50s. Millis was out of the office this week and could not be reached.
"I talked to Terry about it," Parry said. "His view was the snuggle (contact) was right at the line of scrimmage. (Sharpe) took (Gamble's) shoulder away from him as he tried to get away. That's why he went with holding."
Jay Hansen, sports editor of the Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal, was one of the few lay persons with a closeup look at the play. While everyone else was concentrating on the two players in the end zone, Hansen was watching the line of scrimmage from the floor of the Fiesta Bowl.
"From what I saw there was definitely contact," said Hansen, who had come down from the press box and was on the sideline near the end zone when the call was made.
"I thought it should have been holding. Gamble caught the defensive back on his heels. I was concentrating on Gamble. Definitely, in my opinion, there was a penalty on the play."
The view from South Florida is that the call cost the Hurricanes the national championship. Not even close. During that drive and before the call, Miami's vaunted defense allowed Ohio State to convert a fourth-and-14. A stop there would have won Miami its second consecutive national championship.
Even after the controversial call, it took the Buckeyes two plays to score from the Miami 1 in the first overtime to tie it. Then, after trailing 31-24 in the second overtime, Miami had four cracks at the tying (or eventual winning) score from the Ohio State 2.
On fourth down, Ken Dorsey crumbled in the face of a withering Ohio State rush and the upset was achieved. Porter was a stand-up guy, explaining the call after the game.
In retrospect, Miami, an 11-point favorite, had plenty of chances to put the game away and in the end was outplayed by an Ohio State team that was better prepared. And whether it takes five seconds or five minutes, they teach officials, above all, to get the call right. Porter did.
Beale Street, anyone?
One line of thinking in the next round of conference expansion holds that Memphis, of all schools, holds the key.
Look at it this way:
It hinges on the ACC's proposed legislation to lower the minimum membership requirement for a conference championship game to 10. If the legislation goes through -- and it looks like it will -- the Big East could go searching for a third team to get to 10 by 2005. Memphis is being rumored as the third school to go to the Big East after Louisville and Cincinnati.
That would leave Conference USA in an extremely vulnerable position. With the WAC ready to pick off C-USA's western flank (SMU? Houston? TCU? Tulane?), the conference might be the big loser in this whole conference realignment mess.
C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has been criticized for his lack of direction during this offseason and his absentee leadership. Banowsky lives in Dallas, but the C-USA conference office is in Chicago.
C-USA could be saved even with the loss of Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis and TCU, both with well-rounded athletic departments in fairly big markets, could become the leaders (for television purposes) of a viable conference.
What hurts C-USA is that right now, it is the best football conference not in the BCS. With any losses, it remains a decidedly non-equity conference.
Meanwhile, the WAC is being extremely aggressive. Commissioner Karl Benson is on record as saying his league wants more schools in the Central time zone. That would figure with the Mountain West being desirous of the WAC's Fresno State and Hawaii.
"The championship game shouldn't be the primary motive to expand," said Benson, whose conference already is at 10. "There's got to be other reasons."
The WAC is doing it for survival. With the ACC expansion settled for the moment, it now becomes a battle for the remaining television dollars between the Big East, C-USA, WAC and Mountain West. One of those leagues, seemingly, is not going to survive after 2005, especially if it takes only 10 teams to stage a conference championship game.
The earliest the ACC legislation can pass is April. That makes for some tough decisions by all the remaining players. Does the ACC go ahead and assume the legislation is going to pass and start working on a divisional schedule? Does it go after a 12th team to make scheduling easier?
If the Big East wants to expand by 2005 (and it does), it still has to move quickly. Some think that the Big East could move within 30-60 days to identify its expansion team(s). The conference is quietly saying, though, it might wait until the first of the year to make its move.
The point is, the longer this goes on, the more recruits, coaches, fans, administrators and networks are left hanging.
Safety net for Eli
Archie Manning revealed recently that his son, senior Mississippi quarterback Eli, had been insured by Lloyd's of London since his sophomore year.
The amount is not known, but typically such policies run into the millions of dollars and provide extra protection in addition to the policy provided by the NCAA.
"We started it his sophomore year and let it progress each year," said Archie, who will have to renew the policy at the end of his month.
The policy might have made it easier for Eli to decide to return for his senior season. He was a highly rated NFL prospect as a junior and could have come out.
"It's nice to have that but I don't think it had anything to do with it."
More likely, Eli is enjoying his life as King of Oxford, simply loving college life like his brother Peyton.
"My dad does that, but I don't know what it is," Eli said of the policy. "I try not to think about that type of thing. I just try to stay healthy and play ball."
No instant replay
The Big Ten has not moved an inch since making noise last season about adding instant replay.
Some shaky officiating and suspensions (the crew in the Wake Forest-Purdue game) led the league to at least consider the concept, but according to Parry, nothing is in the works.
"We have reviewed it but nothing is going to happen on it," he said. "There is no momentum. We have discussed it, but there is nothing concrete this year."
Instant replay has been an issue with NCAA rules-makers for at least 15 years.
"There are the obvious obstacles, money and so on," said John Adams, secretary-editor of the NCAA rules committee. "The package the NFL has is extremely expensive. Our statistics and their statistics show only 1½ or two plays a game are changed. If you do (a system) that costs less, you get something that is less satisfactory."
Schools have been asked by Adams' committee to show only controversial plays on video screens only once. No slow motion. No stop action. It is not a rule, but the NCAA is trying to protect officials who could be the target of angry fans.
- The ACC's legislation will first have to get past the NCAA's 49-member Management Council. The council will recommend whether to endorse the legislation to the NCAA Board of Directors. Even then the board can throw the legislation back to the council for more fine-tuning. The board is made up of 18 members, all university CEOs. Eleven must vote for approval. Six of those 11 are from BCS leagues.
- The Big Ten is officially back. Ohio State is the defending national champion. The Buckeyes will have to fight off Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue for the Rose Bowl berth this year. All four teams are legitimate preseason top 15 picks.
- If the WAC is going to make its move up the BCS ladder, there is a lead ceiling this season. Since 1999, WAC schools have never won more than a quarter of their games against BCS schools. This season includes 21 WAC-BCS games, arguably the most difficult matchups in recent history. Hawaii is playing Alabama and USC. Fresno State's first three games are against Tennessee, Oregon State and Oklahoma. Louisiana Tech has Miami and Michigan State. You get the idea. The league went 4-20 against BCS schools last year, 4-16 in 2001, 4-13 in 2000 and 2-17 in 1999. The best year of the BCS era was 1998 when the WAC won nine of 33 games (27.2 percent).