Pac-12 suspends referee after egregious mistake during Washington State vs. Cal game

The Pac-12 has suspended one of its referees after a “mechanics error” occurred in Saturday’s Washington State vs. California game. 

That mechanics error? Assessing a 15-yard penalty to the incorrect team. 

The conference said Sunday in a news release that early in the third quarter, Cal committed an illegal hands to the face penalty on a kickoff play. On that play, Washington State returned the ball to midfield and the 15-yard penalty should have advanced the ball to Cal’s 35. 

Instead, the penalty was assigned to the receiving team and enforced half the distance to the goal from the spot of the foul, giving the Cougars starting field position at their own 8-yard line. That’s a difference of a whopping 57 yards. 

Here’s how the Pac-12 described the sequence of events:

With 10:14 remaining in the third quarter, Washington State received the kick off and returned it to the 50-yard line. The Referee threw a flag on the play for a hands to the face penalty. After a crew discussion, the foul was announced by the Referee as “hands to the face on the receiving team number 15” and Washington State was penalized half the distance to the goal from the spot of the foul and the ball was placed at its own 8-yard line.

According to the Pac-12, the referee quickly realized the gaffe and informed Washington State, but it was too late. WSU already ran an offensive play — a three-yard pass from Anthony Gordon to Max Borghi. Washington State ended up getting a field goal on the drive, but that’s still an egregious error by the officiating crew. The field goal cut Cal’s lead to 20-14, and Cal went on to win 33-20.

As a result, the referee has been suspended for one game while the other members of his crew “have been downgraded.”

Washington State head football coach Mike Leach gestures to his team after a penalty call during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

“The Conference confirmed the penalty for hands to the face was correct. However, the mechanics and communication were incorrect in assessing the penalty to Washington State instead of California,” the conference’s release says. “The Referee has subsequently been suspended for one game for the breakdown in officiating mechanics and communication. The remaining members of the officiating crew have been downgraded.”

In an effort to be more transparent to the public (after a Yahoo Sports investigation), the Pac-12 instituted a new communications protocol prior to the season. That has resulted in the conference acknowledging mistakes via news release. 

Previously, the conference admitted to a mistake at the end of Arizona State’s win over Michigan State. Additionally, the Pac-12 backed up a controversial call at the end of the Ole Miss vs. Cal said, but did acknowledge that the call — an Ole Miss completion that came up just short of the goal line in the game’s final seconds — should have been reviewed.

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