There are a couple of ways of looking at the replay-review controversy that swirled around the Pac-12 this past week, when it was discovered that a “third party” was involved in judging — and changing — a targeting play/call in the Washington State-USC game a few weeks ago.
One is that it was a simple screw-up by the league, with a policy that was too ambiguous to appear above reproach as it was examined further. A mistake that could happen to any process in any league. A mistake that would be corrected and improved upon in the weeks ahead.
No big deal.
The other is that the mistake was one more brick in a load of problems in the Pac- 12 through a period of time overseen by commissioner Larry Scott that has witnessed:
• The conference falling behind in the race for dollars with other leagues, with member institutions collecting far less money than schools in other power leagues.
• Television distribution problems, with the league unable to get a deal done between its own network and DirectTV, limiting the number of households the Pac-12 Networks are seen in.
• The league failing competitively relative to other conferences in getting Pac-12 teams into the national playoff.
• A number of conference basketball programs — including Utah, indirectly — associated with or being investigated for illegal payouts to players.
When Scott addressed the media on Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, answering questions about the latest mess that called into question not just the conference’s procedures, but also its integrity, he, not surprisingly, favored the first option. The replay incident occurred when Woodie Dixon, the league’s general counsel and senior vice president of business affairs, offered an opinion on and influenced the play/call involving a hit put on USC quarterback JT Daniels by Washington State linebacker Logan Tago.
“You never like to see controversy,” Scott said. “… It goes with the territory. There are going to be issues that arise with all the sports that we deal with, all the issues we deal with. It’s how you deal with it. If you deal with it in a forthright manner. Make adjustments where we need to, in the case of officiating this week, we clearly made mistakes in our procedures. You have to acknowledge that those things will happen from time to time.”
He continued: “I’m a big believer if you see something wrong, you address it right away, make a commitment to the principles that are most important to you. In this case, the principles that are of most importance to the Pac-12 are the highest level of integrity, especially when it comes to something like officiating, and student-athlete welfare. When there’s controversy, those are the true north, the things you look to and, in this case, those are what guided me as to how we dealt with it, immediately correcting what we saw was wrong. Admitting, if we did something wrong, which I think we did in this case.”
Throughout all of that, Scott threw in a bunch of stuff about the excellence of the Pac-12, excellence in competition and academics, and in “doing things the right way.” He even talked about the conference “changing the world for a positive effect.”
He said that when the replay-review command center was set up, it was with the thought that having “more eyeballs” on a play would insure “maximum consistency [to get] calls right.”
He said the error in that procedure was that having more conference eyeballs on any given play could create a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof.
He added that the league’s replay supervisor — Bill Richardson — at the league’s command center in San Francisco ultimately should be in charge of replays: “Bill, for me, is where the buck stops.”
In the future, he said, “The only people that are going to be involved in replay review are replay officials.”
Opinions from the league’s general counsel about any judgment call never should have been a part of the process, never should have been allowed, never should have been uttered or heard. It’s not that complicated. It takes no strong leadership to have recognized that.
But Scott and the entire Pac-12 initially whiffed on it.
There have been other controversies about league officiating in the past, including more than a few on targeting calls.
Scott said the negative perception around the country about the conference because of this mistake was fixable, implying that the Pac-12 would go on changing the world.
Not sure how the world can be so positively affected by a league that struggles to keep its own business in order.
If the league, from a leadership standpoint, messes over what it’s messed over in recent years, this latest trouble being one more example, you have to wonder whether the world and the league, changes or no, are going to hell in a hand basket.
None of it inspires any kind of confidence in the people, the person, leading the charge.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.