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Sunday Morning Hangover: SEC Officials Hand Auburn Another Win

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A controversial ending to Auburn-Arkansas is followed by a lame SEC explanation.

Kids, this is a backwards pass. It is considered by most people to be a fumble.

While this college football season is one unlike any other in the history of the game, one thing remains the same: Auburn escapes with a flukey win. The Tigers staved off an upset bid by Arkansas as beneficiaries of yet another controversial screw-up by the SEC officials.

The situation looked dire for Auburn down 28-27 and the time ticking down to zeroes. Out of timeouts, the plan was to spike or “clock” the football to stop the clock on third down so they could attempt a field goal with seconds to go. Tigers quarterback Bo Nix muffed the snap and it hit the ground. He picked it up and then turned to his right and drove the ball into the ground - behind him.

Below is the complete play. Start the video at the nine minute mark.

Here it is slowed down.

Fans across the country were yelling “FUMBLE!” Apparently, the officials could not hear them. In a cloud of confusion, they ruled it... intentional grounding (??!?!?!).

You may have to watch it several times but watch these Keystone Kops bungle this call. The back judge (far right) was contempt to let it play out. The referee (with an “R” on his back) blew an early whistle and threw a flag - the only one to do so and rather delayed.

The center judge (behind the play) can plainly be seen incorrectly making the incomplete pass signal and making no effort to get out of the way of what could be a live ball. In the days since replay officiating has been introduced, officials have more often and routinely let instances like this play out and correct it on replay. For whatever reason, nobody in this crew was on the same page.

First off, calling the play intentional grounding confirms that they agree that the act was NOT a legal clock-stopping spike. As soon as the snap was fumbled, Nix was no longer allowed to spike. This part they got right.

However for some reason, they neglected to judge the position of Nix’s body and where the pass went. The point of intentional grounding becomes moot when a ball handler turns and throws a ball laterally or backwards. Intentional grounding is absolutely the wrong call.

Below we see Blaine Gabbert in an NFL game throw a ball backwards and referees immediately and correctly rule it a fumble.

Although this play is from the NFL, the rule is the same all the way down to peewee football: any ball that goes lateral or backwards is a live ball, even after it touches the ground.

@SECOfficiating boldly addressed this play, though the explanation is confusing and contradicts what actually happened on the field.

Rule 7-3-2-f: A forward pass is illegal if: The passer to conserve time throws the ball directly to the ground (1) after the ball has already touched the ground; or (2) not immediately after controlling the ball.

Thanks for that, but that was NOT a forward pass. As a side note, the whistles were not immediate. Admit it: They got it wrong.

Rule 12-3-2-e-1: Reviewable plays involving passes include: e. Pass ruled forward or backward. 1. If the pass is ruled forward and is incomplete, the play is reviewable only if the ball goes out of bounds or if there is clear recovery of a loose ball in the immediate continuing football action after the loose ball. If the replay official does not have indisputable video evidence as to which team recovers, the ruling of incomplete pass stands.

According to this rule, the play is reviewable as to whether it was forward or backwards pass. The SEC conveniently did not confirm whether this issue was judged upon by the replay official or what the verdict was. According to Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman, they did not rule it a backwards pass. Rule 12-3-2-e-1 was incorrectly followed on this point.

Additionally to most observers and you have to assume to the replay official, Arkansas DB Joe Foucha (#7) missed his first attempted recovery but was on the ball moments later with nobody on Auburn even close to having possession. There is nothing to dispute as to who recovered.

But the SEC uses a nebulous loophole of a “the immediate continuing football action.” If there is an explicit interpretation of what this means in the rule book, it needs to be told. Otherwise, it is open to interpretation. How immediate and clear does it have to be? But here again, that is not what was ruled on the field.

The only reason that the SEC chose this replay rule in their explanation has to be because it is a total cop out. It is their equivalent of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

So, let me fix that Tweet for you SEC:

“During the 3rd down play at 0:30 in the 4th quarter, the officials on the field ERRONEOUSLY sounded their whistles and blew the play dead A GOOD THREE SECONDS AFTER THE SPIKE as they ONE OF THEM INCORRECTLY deemed the passer illegally grounded the ball to conserve time as governed by Rule 7-3-2-f.”

“During the subsequent replay review, there is conclusive video evidence that the pass was backwards AND CONSIDERED A FUMBLE, THOUGH THAT WAS NOT STATED ON THE FIELD NOR WAS IT RULED THAT WAY. However, because recovery of the football was not clearly made in the immediate continuing football action (NOT DEFINED), the ruling on the field was determined to stand under Rule 12-3-2-e-1 (COP OUT). Both the determination of a backward pass and the immediate clear recover are required to reverse the ruling on the field under Rule 12-3-2-e-1.”

The Razorbacks and Pittman have every right to be miffed with this ruling in what could have been a program changing win.