It’s Official: Do they know all of the rules?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The fact that I seem to owe an apology for writing an inaccuracy each week just means that some folks are paying attention to what I say.

This week’s correction has to do with my inaccurate assumption that the Notre Dame-Tennessee game was aired by NBC, when in fact CBS carried it as part of its SEC package.

I will offer the lame excuse that I seldom listen to college football TV commentators, unless the crew includes Bill Curry. Bill is the only announcer I have heard who really knows the rules of college football.

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To Pete Freehill and Bill Asch, please accept my correction. I will continue to speak out as an advocate for the NCAA to change rules and require neutral officials for major intersectional games.

Even Notre Dame fans will see the value of that change after watching their Irish lose a close contest to Pittsburgh Saturday, all the while being penalized 10 times for 120 yards by the visiting Big East officials. Most of those penalties came at crucial times. I did not see enough of the game to pass judgement on the officiating, but there would certainly be less criticism had the officials been from a neutral association.

On the other hand, I seem to remember a game several years ago when Notre Dame visited LSU and left Tiger Stadium with a close victory. No problem, except that Notre Dame was not flagged a single time in spite of several obvious line-of-scrimmage violations.

I know the difficulty an independent school has surrounding officiating. There will always be questions about bias, and most of those are probably unfounded. Neutral officiating crews would certainly not remove all criticism of college football officiating, but it would go a long way in that direction.

I noticed a couple of ineligible lineman down field calls during Saturday’s games. Often when a team has planned a screen pass, the defensive team will have the play defended and the quarterback will have to either take a loss or throw the ball away.

In order to avoid intentional grounding, he will throw the ball out of bounds past the line of scrimmage. Since offensive linemen normally go down field and block on a screen pass, they are caught in no-man’s land and get penalized.

On many such occasions, the linemen have already started their blocks when the pass is thrown and could be called for offensive pass interference. That violation calls for a 15-yard penalty, while the ineligible receiver down field penalty is but 5 yards.

Officials will usually, in that case, only call the 5-yard violation when a screen pass was the obvious intent of the play. The offensive interference by an offensive lineman generally occurs when the quarterback is scrambling and starts to run, then pulls up and throws a pass.

His linemen will likely have gone down field to block for him and could make contact with a defender, which becomes offensive pass interference because a pass is thrown.

Officials often miss this call because they are reacting to the play just as the players are doing.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at