Inside the Onside

Debate remains over whether West Virginia's onside kick recovery versus Louisville was legal. Predictably, the Mountaineers claim it was, while the Cardinals claim it wasn't.

It's a "he said-he said" case. The Big East stated it made a mistake on the call, but would not elaborate. Kickoff recovery cannot be reviewed under current rules, which state that illegal blocks and interference calls are judgment matters.

So what, exactly, is the rule?

According to NCAA Rule 6-1, Article 3, a kicking team player "may touch a free ball after it breaks the plane of and remains beyond the receiving team's restraining line (10 yards)."

The exceptions:

A player of the receiving team "within the boundary lines attempting to catch a kick, and so located that he could have caught a free kick or a scrimmage kick that is beyond a neutral zone, must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick."

There's the gray area, and hence the dispute. Louisville wide receiver Jimmy Riley, an up-man on the kickoff, was hit by WVU's Aaron Meckstroth. Riley was the only Cardinal close enough to field the ball, and his actions are the ones being debated.

Replays show Riley turning to run towards his own end zone, as he would on a traditional kickoff. What happens next is the cause for the rhubarb.

Louisville head coach Bob Petrino claims Riley was coming up to field the kick, and should have been given unimpeded access to the area. West Virginia special teams coach Bill Stewart asserts that Riley turned to block, then tried to make a recovery.

Meckstroth was upon him by then, and lowered a perfectly legal shoulder that took Riley out of the play.

"You can see it plainly on the film," Stewart said. "He turned and was going back to block. He is then fair game. He knew he made a mistake and started to come up, and we hit him. What's the difference if it's 43 yards downfield or 13? We can whack them when they are blockers. He was then.

"He was not in position to field it. I don't know (what the Big East is talking about)."

The likely case is that the officials made a judgment call on whether the player was actually trying to recover the kick. They decided he was not.

"The only explanation I got was that they didn't think he was attempting to field the ball," Petrino told the Courier-Journal.


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