Let’s get this out of the way now. I am a Texas Longhorns fan. I have been one all my life. I’ve been watching the Horns since the 1977 Cotton Bowl, when Earl Campbell got shut down by the dreaded Fighting Irish. I cried that day. I was six.
I didn’t cry Saturday, despite the 30-27 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. In the end I wasn’t even angry. I was just stunned, flabbergasted, gobsmacked at the horrendous performance of the officiating crew on the field that day.
It looked to me like the Horns were getting a raw deal as early as the second quarter, when Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph demanded, and received, a roughing the passer call on Longhorn defensive tackle Paul Boyette that nullified a devastating interception and return. At 4:14 p.m., around halftime, I posted on a friend’s Facebook wall that the Horns would be in control if it weren’t for the refs, but I wasn’t too concerned. Usually these things even out over the course of a game. This time they did not. Not by a long shot.
There were phantom offensive holds on Patrick Vahe and Taylor Doyle, and a downright surreal defensive holding call on defensive tackle Poona Ford. And that was followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on irate head coach Charlie Strong.
When was the last time you saw a defensive tackle get called for holding on a running play, while he himself is being tackled and in no position to make a play? When was the last time you saw a belligerent zebra follow a raging coach, bump him, and then flag him?
When was the last time you saw both of those things on the same play, and at the key moment in a close game?
UT was flagged 16 times for 128 yards, the Cowboys seven for 40, every single one of them either an obvious jump offside or one of the most blatant intentional groundings in the history of sack avoidance. Longhorn tight end Andrew Beck was knocked off his route by a Cowboy defensive back on a catchable pass in the end zone. No flag. Cowboy QB JW Walsh fumbles, and one Longhorn pounces on it before the pile-up and another emerges from it with the ball? Cowboy ball. Walsh touched it in there at some point. And then all those bizarre holds…
Holding happens—somewhere, everywhere—on every single damn play. Competent refs only call the blatant holds that give a clear advantage to one team or the other. But dishonest and/or incompetent refs can throw those flags to swing games. Either by intention or ineptitude, this game hinged partially on holding calls. The whole thing reeked of the NBA, a league I swore off 20 years ago after seeing one too many unexplainable calls and whose very integrity as an actual sport I came to disavow. Since 1996, not much has happened to burnish the NBA’s credibility in my eyes; it’s little more than professional wrestling on hardwood, in my view, and Tim Donaghy, the 2006 Dallas Mavericks, and 2002 Sacramento Kings would agree.
This game was WWE on DKR’s turf. The outcome appeared pre-decided from the second quarter on, when it looked like 1-2 Texas was the better team than ranked 3-0 Oklahoma State.
Yeah, I know. Many fans of other Big 12 times and Texas haters in general will just tell me turnabout is fair play. Welcome to the club. Now you know what it feels like not to have the refs in your mighty burnt orange pocket.
And yes, there have been a few high-profile calls that have gone UT’s way since 2004, as Rodger Sherman of SB Nation pointed out. He cited seven examples spanning over a decade, including Colt McCoy’s pass out of bounds in the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska that clearly left a second on the clock where he admitted that the refs overturned an obvious bad call. Another example was when a ref fist-pumped after Limas Sweed caught Vince Young’s touchdown pass against Colorado.
But seven bad calls in Texas’s favor over eleven years versus about that many in a single game on Saturday? Plus, all of the examples Sherman cited were debatable calls in close games, not a litany of one-sided whistles that swung what should have been a fairly easy Texas win to an unearned defeat.
Scipio Tex of Longhorn fansite Barking Carnival is no whiner. I’ve been reading his stuff there and at BC’s predecessors for over a decade. He’s made passing swipes at bad calls, but he’s also never failed to acknowledge ref mistakes in Texas’s favor either.
This officiating crew had a clear bias problem, which means, by definition, a corruption problem and, perhaps, even a financial interest problem. At least one of those descriptives is inarguable.
The game outcome was determined by the officiating crew. Any other viewpoint is ignorant of objective and empirical reality. Right now, I’m simply interested in determining what kind of human garbage we’re dealing with: pro Cowboy or anti-Texas game riggers, corrupt gamblers, straight up racists who want to undercut a predominantly black coaching staff at the state Flagship or simply petty small men who decided early on they were going to “get” Texas for some unknown slight. I truly don’t know. I’ve just never seen anything so blatantly purposeful in a football game.
OK, those are some explosive charges, and Scipio is a fellow Horn fan, and if I quoted only him, you could justly accuse me of asking you all to see the world through our burnt orange-tinted glasses.
But we are not alone.
These were phantom calls, these were bogus calls. Defensive holding on a guy who got pushed 10 yards down the field? … This is ridiculous. Something needs to be done. This wasn’t incompetence, to me, this was borderline fixing a game.
One of the things we saw: the most egregious case of WTFery imaginable in the Oklahoma State-Texas game. We’d like to be clear on two things here: one, yes, Texas has been the recipient of a lot of bad calls over time, and there’s a certain amount of karmic retribution at play. But two, and this is even more important, Saturday’s game was an absolute travesty. That many bad calls going against one team is rancid, like the stench of carp left to bake in the summer sun. Is Scipio Tex right? Is there actual corruption at play here? Or is this simply an utterly incompetent crew of officials?
Now I’m inclined to think Scipio missed another theory: The Big 12 wants to protect its undefeated teams. Sure, Oklahoma State isn’t Baylor, TCU, or Oklahoma—this year’s big three contenders for postseason glory—but hey, they were 3-0 and ranked coming into this game, whereas UT was damaged goods, coming in 1-2 and a few weeks removed from a thorough thrashing on national TV.
The Big 12 needs the Cowboys to look like a better team than they really are, so that when they are inevitably beaten by the Bears, Sooners, and Horned Frogs, it will seem like those national contenders had accomplished something more than whooping up on Charlie Strong’s ragtag freshmen, the same ones who laid a rotten egg against Notre Dame. Parity is valued in the NFL. In the NCAA it means crappy bowl bids and less TV time.
I hate that I am reduced to these conspiratorial broodings about a sport I have followed closely for 38 years now, but this game was beyond poorly officiated, so much so that it opens the floor to debate about integrity. The whole season seems scripted. Horn fans, and fans of every other Big 12 team, should not be reassured by the fact that the Big 12’s director of officials claims to be “generally pleased” by the officiating in this travesty of a “game.”
The beauty of college football is that upsets are possible, even huge ones. Or at least they were when teams were matched eleven versus eleven, not eleven versus eleven plus the refs and the league office and the pollsters and the BCS’s computer algorithms. This year, the only games that seem to have a chance of honest officiating are one in which the two teams are similarly ranked (or unranked, in Texas’s case). So why even bother pretending Texas has a chance against TCU on Saturday?
Fall in Texas is one of our most pleasant seasons. Why spend it in front of a TV? Either offer up fair contests or watch as tens of thousands of us decide to enjoy the great outdoors, enhance our quality time with non-football fan loved ones, and grow out of being willing shills in carnival midway shell games.