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Opinions You Disagree With: Finding an ‘L’ in ‘Untimed Down’

“Forever, those that watched Oklahoma State take on Central Michigan on Saturday will know the correct ruling for a penalty on the last play of the game.”

By now, you’re surely aware of the disastrous ending to the Oklahoma State and Central Michigan game. If you’re not, you represent an incredibly small subset of readers of this blog who also aren’t aware of the biggest headlines in college football. Can I also inform you about the recent happenings at Baylor?

I, of course, am not here to break news. I’m here to give you my slant on the news and tell you how dumb many of your friends and relatives are. You’re cool though. Probably.

In situations like these, a common line is “you can’t make this up.” Well, actually, in this case, you absolutely could. Well, maybe not you, a free thinking and level-headed adult. But, a small child.
If you’ve ever sat near a young child at a football game, inane questions like these will probably sound familiar to you:

  • What if the QB just threw it really high and it didn’t come down until the game was over?
  • What if a WR could catch it and pass it to his teammate really fast?
  • What if the referees don’t know the rules?

This is the ending of OSU-CMU.

Now, before we really get rolling, let me just say that regardless of your opinion of the game, and what should be done next, we should all be able to agree that the Chippewas’ final play — that shouldn’t have ever happened — was a thing of beauty. Don’t get too wrapped up in everything else not to enjoy some wacky, amazing football when it comes along.

Oklahoma State’s Situation Is Unique

Let’s start with this. What happened in Stillwater on Saturday isn’t like the Duke-Miami game last year, or the Oklahoma-Oregon onside kick  from 2006, or even the infamous 5th down game between Missouri and Colorado. Despite what any number of college football writers, talking heads, and Twitter users want to tell you, what happened to OSU is unique.

In the examples above, an error in judgment during a live ball play made the difference. Officials in those games believed one thing happened, and correctly used the rules of the game to make their call. They didn’t see a knee touch, they thought one team recovered the ball, they believed it was fourth down.

Every official involved in the game Saturday involving Oklahoma State incorrectly applied the rules of the game to a dead ball situation. It was a lot like the 5th down game, if the officials had stopped after what they thought was 4th down, huddled, and decided to allow an extra untimed down.

So, if your argument to this point has been that other teams have been treated unfairly by officials in the past, please adjust your thinking. Other teams have certainly been screwed, but the Cowboys got bolted.

The Rule Officials Got Wrong Doesn’t Need To Be Changed

Another opinion most people share is that the rule that allows the offense to run out the clock by committing a penalty that comes with a loss of down should be changed. It doesn’t need to be.
When the defense commits a penalty on the last play of the game, the offense is compensated with an untimed down. That’s because the defense may have committed the penalty to keep the offense from scoring. However, the offense committing a penalty doesn’t prevent a defensive score.

In most cases, an offensive penalty prevents the defense from tackling them for a loss. Like holding, a chop block, intentional grounding, and so on. So, the offense gets moved back. The obvious exception is offensive pass interference, which is sometimes used to prevent an interception.

In this case, however, intentional grounding is a rule that exists to prevent a QB from throwing the ball away instead of taking a sack. The penalty is the equivalent of the result of a sack. If a defense successfully sacks the quarterback, they don’t put extra time on the clock, or allow them an untimed down.

There’s no reason to over think this. Given the history of those in charge of college football, they couldn’t if they tried.

Who Gets The Win?

So, based on my arguments to this point, it seems clear what I think the next move should be.

Should OSU be granted the victory because there’s a clear point in the game when officials should have ended the contest, and everything that happened afterward is irrelevant? No.

The argument many have is that the rules of the game were skewed in those final seconds. Had the officials correctly applied the rules that both teams were playing by up to the point of Mason Rudolph’s intentional grounding, Oklahoma State wins and the hail mary and lateral never happens.

Nothing in the previous paragraph is incorrect. And yet, how can you argue that not following the rules demands a change in outcome, when it would require not following the rules to grant one.

Rule 1.1.3.b states that once the officials declare a game over, it’s over and results cannot be changed or overturned. Full disclosure, I don’t want this to be my opinion. I want to say, “well, if you don’t have to follow all the rules during the game, why follow any rules ever? OSU wins by 1 million and that was the national championship game. Season over.”

But, that makes no sense.

OSU was wronged, but, you have to operate within the rules of the game. That’s odd to say when this situation occurred because your opponent wasn’t held to those same rules. Consider, however, that overturning this result, when it’s clearly against the rules of the game, isn’t any different from granting an untimed down. The only difference is CMU gets hosed instead of OSU. I see OSU fans nodding and grinning, but even you know that’s not right.

Best case scenario from here is that OSU takes the high road and accepts that the outcome, though unfair and wrong, is set. Now, if they run the table from here out (stop laughing), I would hope that the voters of each poll would treat their loss as an unimpressive win. I’d hope the voters wouldn’t be as uninformed as a referee crew that didn’t know the rules of the game they were officiating. But maybe now I’m being naive.

I’d also hope that the rule protecting the gaffes of officials gets amended, or stricken from the record book altogether. Referees make mistakes because they’re human. Allowing those that recognize the error to go back and make it right isn’t hurting anything or showing a mistrust of those officials. If it was, we wouldn’t have replay reviews.

There weren’t many positives that came out of Saturday’s events for the OSU faithful, but there is this. Forever, those that watched Oklahoma State take on Central Michigan on Saturday will know the correct ruling for a penalty on the last play of the game.

Someday, that may just come in handy.

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