A third-quarter fumble returned for a touchdown by No. 2 Ohio State in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl should not have been overturned and instead should have been allowed to stand, Big Ten supervisor of officials Bill Carollo tells CBS Sports just days after the College Football Playoff semifinal that sent No. 3 Clemson to the national title game.
In the third quarter of the Tigers' eventual 29-23 win, Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross was ruled to have fumbled after being hit by Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah following a 10-yard catch at the Clemson 30. OSU defensive back Jordan Fuller then returned the loose ball for a touchdown.
However, upon video review, the play was overturned and ruled an incompletion. Veteran SEC video review official Gerald Hodges initiated the booth review.
The officiating decision immediately became one of the most debated in the six-year history of the CFP. It set off a firestorm of debate on television and social media.
"I haven't talked to anybody who thought it was an incomplete pass," said Carollo, who has more than 30 years of officiating experience. "To reverse it, it has to be really obvious."
Carollo said he has spoken with both Ohio State coach Ryan Day and SEC officiating supervisor Steve Shaw about the play. Carollo admitted Day was upset, but, "He's a pro. Very professional."
A highly-rated, on-field veteran SEC crew worked the game. SEC administrators have not commented on the officiating decision itself. It is unknown whether the league will release a statement.
Referee Ken Williamson told a pool reporter after the game that "the ball was becoming loose in his hands and he did not complete the process of the catch."
Carollo said Williamson "misspoke on that. The ball was not moving."
The NCAA rulebook defines a catch as maintaining "control of the ball long enough to enable [a player] to perform an act common to the game … long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent."
Ross appears to take at least three steps after the catch without the ball moving in his hands before he is stripped.
"We would have preferred it stand," Carollo said. "Don't reofficiate it [in the replay booth] on judgment calls."
When asked about about the decision after game, Day said the situation was "too close right now." He continued: "I'm probably too emotional to really talk about those [calls]."
Day added there were "some plays" overturned in the game, "and when they overturn it, there has to be indisputable evidence."
One Power Five officiating supervisor added, "I think [the SEC would] like to have that [call] back."
Carollo said he told Day there were several close calls in the game but there was only one Day should have had "a beef with." That was the catch/no catch ruling on Ross' play.
On the field, the SEC crew handled the play by the book, Carollo said. As soon as the ball hit the ground, an official threw a bean bag indicating a fumble. The crew let the sequence play out with Fuller taking it in for a touchdown to give Ohio State the lead.
Williamson said the play was reviewed not only by Hodges in the replay booth but at the SEC "video center" in Birmingham, Alabama. Hodges appears weekly on a Knoxville, Tennessee, sports talk show.
"We had a lot of good looks on it," Williamson said. "We put on fast motion and slow motion. The player did not complete the process of the catch, therefore the pass was incomplete."
Shaw would not comment, but national officiating supervisor Rogers Redding agreed that the call should not have been overturned when contacted by CBS Sports on Monday. Shaw is set to replace Redding as national supervisor.
Carollo has been Big Ten officiating supervisor since 2009. He is a former Big Ten football and basketball official. From 1989 to 2008, he was an NFL official.
Neutral Power Five crews are assigned to CFP games.