Read a little bit about college football today and you'll surely read that Iowa State was screwed in their game last night against Texas. It's all about dollar signs and the power the Longhorns have over the conference, so much power that they'll outright screw another team on national television. However, after looking at the play and thinking about it for a few hours, I think the narrative of Iowa State getting screwed needs to be addressed.
Before getting to the call, can we all agree that it's an incredibly difficult call to make? This type of call might be the hardest for officials for a few reasons. First, the goal line must be watched. The line judge and head linesman have to determine if the runner breaks the plane of the goal line. Second, the umpire, white hat, and "A" all have a decent view of the ball but don't have a good angle on the goal line. Because they don't have the angle on progress and goal line, they're not hitting the whistle. The three back guys are watching the receivers and downfield, so they can penalize junk like we saw last night out of Longhorn receiver Mike Davis. Third, the officials on the line ruling on the play are on the sideline and moving in when they see it's an up the middle play. That puts at least 4-6 250 lb men in their line of sight between them and the ball carrier. Ok, so it's a hard call but that doesn't excuse a bad call. I'm just not so sure it's a bad call.
Here's a gif of the play that was posted at SB Nation overnight.
When reviewing the play, one thing we all need to remember is that the whistle does not determine when a play is dead in football unless it is an inadvertent whistle. The ball becomes dead by rule. Rule 4, Section 1, Article 2: A live ball becomes a dead ball as provided in the rules or when an official sounds his whistle (even though inadvertently) or otherwise signals the ball dead. Again, the whistle is for the other players to know when to quit hitting each other, not to kill a play. That is done by rule. The officials ruled the runner was down by contact, this is the most debatable part of the ruling. To review the rule, any body part other than the hand or foot makes a runner down in college football. If you think it was clearly a fumble, point to the gif or video that shows the runner clearly off the ground without the football. From the 3 angles provided by TV last night and from any angle I've seen today, we cannot see when the runner is downed. The upper body is blocked on every angle, could his elbow or butt be down? They're probably not down but there is no evidence proving it. This is where the wing officials might even have a better angle. They can see an elbow or a butt hit the ground.
Here's a still picture also provided by Kirk at SB Nation last night.
We can never see the ball. We can never see when the runner's down. Objectively, can you tell me that ball's out before any part of the runner is downed?
The other argument thrown around a lot today is that officials should have let the play continue and then fix it with replay if something is wrong. I have two issues with that philosophy on this particular play. First, there certainly isn't enough evidence to overturn either call that could have been made. So we have the exact same situation but Texas getting "screwed" instead of Iowa State. That might make all of the non-UT fans/conspiracy theorists feel better today but we cannot say it would be any more correct than the official ruling last night.
My second issue with wanting the slow whistle in this situation is that it could have easily backfired on Iowa State and likely does hurt the defense more than the offense in this situation. We have a goal line play that gets stuffed at the point of attack. Johnathan Gray is clearly stood up with no momentum, at this point forward progress is definitely stopped and the ball should be declared dead by rule. By blowing the whistle now, Iowa State is rewarded for stopping the runner. Letting the play continue allows for Texas lineman to pile on giving a touchdown after progress has been stopped.