Tuesday, September 27th, 2011...12:03 pm

Holy Toledo: A College Football Controversy (and no, it’s not about the BCS for once)

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By Sam Mann

So before we even get into this discussion, in the interest of full disclosure, I am going to admit that as a Syracuse fan I may be biased about this. While it is pretty easy to predict how I will come out on this issue, I think it requires some attention.

Last Saturday Toledo played at Syracuse in a non-conference football game. Syracuse ended up winning 33-30 in a game that, while sloppy at times, was a pretty exciting, back-and-forth game. With 2:00 left in the 4th Quarter, Syracuse scored a go-ahead touchdown to take a 29-27 lead. The extra point try hooked left badly, but the officials on the field called the kick good, making it 30-27. Upon replay, it appeared the kick was no good, but the officials determined the evidence was conclusive enough to overturn the call on the field. Toledo marched down the field and tied the game, but the vaunted Syracuse defense created a turnover in overtime and won the game outright.

Toledo, obviously upset, has decided to handle it with class…wait, check that; they decided to complain loudly. Toledo Athletic Director Mike O’Brien has asked the commissioner of his conference, the MAC, to request that the Big East force Syracuse to vacate the win, presumably to give it to Toledo. MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher has rightfully recognized that there is no bylaw or vehicle for the NCAA or a conference to take a win away from a team, so we can safely assume that no action will be taken.

The national media has also seized upon this series of events as an opportunity to express their disgust. ESPN has labeled it the “Syracuse Controversy” per its ESPNU Experts Show. On yesterday’s College Football podcast, Gene Wojiechowski spent several minutes discussing the topic, and then requested Syracuse to “admit they did not win the game” and vacate it “in the interest of sportmanship.” (See the 29:30 mark in the podcast).

Here are my thoughts on this story: it is unbelievably ridiculous. Though this may be hard to believe, I would feel the exact same way if Syracuse had lost. Bad calls are part of the game. So are physical and mental errors by the players. To unwind every game just because a replay indicates something different would absolutely destroy the game.

First, you can’t assume Toledo would have won the game by kicking the aforementioned field goal. With a 2 point lead, it is extremely possible that Syracuse plays a different defensive scheme, or that Toledo’s play-calling might change. Further, Syracuse had 2 timeouts remaining, which it never called, precisely because of that 3 point lead. Down 2, they certainly would have managed the clock differently.

Secondly, there were other bad calls in that game, trust me. A blatant pass interference penalty missed in the end zone. If you’re going to unwind the Syracuse extra point, let’s unwind that play and give Syracuse the ball at the 2 yard line and assume they score a touchdown. Does that sound fair, equitable or in the spirit of the game? No, not at all. And that is why we cannot and should not change the outcome of games after the fact.

There are examples of this in sports all the time. Missouri and Colorado played a game in 1990 where the refs mistakenly allowed Colorado to have five downs on their final drive and beat Missouri. That game wasn’t overturned or vacated; why should this one? The Pittsburgh Pirates lost an extra inning game to the Atlanta Braves in July where the umpire called a baserunner safe at home, before the runner even touched the plate. The intergrity of that game wasn’t threatened. Neither Neal Huntingdon or Clint Hurdle asked the National League to vacate Atlanta’s win.

Is it unfortunate that the officiating crew, a Big East crew as everyone likes to point out, missed the call? Yes, it is. But if this call happened in the 3rd Quarter and not the 4th Quarter, no one would even be talking about it. I think it’s also insulting to Syracuse and their players to imply that their win is somehow less meaningful or they should give it up because an official, acting outside of their control, made a mistake. Syracuse Coach Doug Marrone didn’t make the call. There is no conspiracy here.

An official made a bad call. The game went on. Toledo executed a nice last-second drive to tie the game at 30. And then Syracuse won the game fairly in overtime by making a big play. Syracuse won, completely within the rules. To try and take that away now would be grossly unfair to all parties. Do you really think Toledo would feel satisfied by getting this win on Tuesday when they walked off the field Saturday thinking they lost? And what would the consequences of such a ruling be? Wouldn’t colleges all across the nation file petitions to change the outcomes of games every week? Would conference commissioner have to set up a review committee to make sure every win was “legitimate”?

The argument is silly, and I for one cannot believe that a professional college sports administrator (Toledo AD Mike O’Brien) would honestly ask for such an action to be taken. It’s just sour grapes for a tough loss. Sorry, Mr. O’Brien, sports, and life for that matter, are not always fair. To complain about it after the fact and ask for the result to be changed shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the game is played. You can’t just assume that Toledo would have won. You can’t penalize Syracuse for something out of their control. And most importantly, you can’t set the precedent of changing results after the fact.

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