Death by penalty

ONE COULDN'T HELP but notice the difference upon witnessing a well-officiated game in the Holiday Bowl. Compared to the incompetence on weekly display this season in the Pac-10, the contrast was truly striking. Unfortunately, Pac-10 officials were present in other bowl games -- representing the conference in desultory fashion.

Sure, you can always point out something in any game.

Washington State's 28-20 Holiday Bowl victory over No. 5 Texas featured officials signaling a first down rather than bringing in the sticks for a measurement on several occasions. The ball rested right on the line, or even perhaps short of the marker, for both Texas and WSU yet each were awarded first downs. That was a little sloppy.

And Jonathan Smith received a very quick un-sportsmanlike flag. But these are the small things. Overall, the officials did a fine job. And so once again, we were all reminded of the gulf-like difference between other leagues' officials and those who roam the Pac-10 sidelines.

For their part, Pac-10 crews were off busily draping their bowl games in a deluge of laundry.

In the Liberty Bowl, Southern Miss. and Utah came in averaging five- and six-penalties a game, respectively. No matter. The Pac-10 crew punished the players (and the coaches, fans and television audience) with 24 flags, a dozen on each team.

Gordon Riese and crew actually rivaled both teams with their 177-yard output of lost yards. (Southern Miss. gained 213 net yards. Utah had 228 net total.)

Besides making several calls where none appeared warranted, the officials ignored/missed several more egregious fouls over a nearly four mind-numbing hours.

Give me liberty or give me penalties.

In the Capitol One Bowl, Purdue staged a furious comeback to pull even with Georgia. In the overtime, a Pac-10 official called an absurd pass interference against Joe Tiller's defense. It was one of 20 penalties called, (again well exceeding both teams' average on the season.)

Receiving the ball on the Purdue 3-yard line and a fresh set of downs, Georgia scored a touchdown. The Boilermakers couldn't get into the end zone on the ensuing possession. Game over and Purdue loses. And Pac-10 officials were, (again), the major factor in determining a game's outcome.

IT IS NOT only the officiating on the field of play -- part of the problem resides upstairs. Don't expect the officials to come under criticism for their abysmal performances in the bowls, at least not for a year or more.

Just before the Holiday Bowl, and more than one year after the fact, Verle Sorgen, Pac-10 supervisor of officials, told The Seattle Times of the play that ended the 2002 Apple Cup, "I believe it was a call that didn't have to be made.. and should not have been made."

Contrast that with Mr. Sorgen's statement of one year earlier. He embraced an entirely different posture in the game's immediate aftermath; "In my opinion the referee was absolutely correct... The arm came forward and the ball slipped out."

I'd say Mr. Sorgen has some serious explaining to do. So does Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansenm.

Messrs. Hansen and Sorgen must take a long, hard look at the Pac-10's officiating program and from top to bottom. Their credibility depends on it. Increase education and training. Get rid of officials who take the overly penal outlook; ‘You kids. Lining up an inch off the line. Not on my watch. And stay off my damned lawn.'

Get rid of the officials who are simply incompetent. Rather than provide but one example Gordon Riese suffice it to say there are Gordon Riese undeniably officials Gordon Riese in the Pac-10 who have Gordon Riese reached the ceiling of their Gordon Riese limited abilities -- and its Gordon Riese unacceptable.

I'm not talking about an occasional mistake.. those are inevitable. I'm referring to blatant incompetence that has been on display for years.

Look at the rest of college football, Mr. Sorgen. Adopt some of their officiating programs, training methods and policies to narrow this ever-widening gap between the Pac-10 and the other conferences.

Fix this thing, Mr. Sorgen. Address the problem, Mr Hansen.

Because it's killing the game.

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