The Kentucky-Florida Play-Clock Controversy Doesn’t Have To Happen Ever Again

After a wild weekend as far as officiating was concerned, I looked at five separate controversies plus a situation in which the replay process worked exactly as it should have. 

One situation not examined in that linked piece was the play-clock controversy at the end of the Kentucky-Florida game. It’s a situation the Southeastern Conference spoke about on Sunday. The SEC said that proper officiating mechanics were observed.

Notice that the statement didn’t directly say that the proper call was made, only that the mechanics were proper. Words and their nuances matter — that idea is the foundation for this piece and its attempt to explain how to solve this issue for good.

First of all, one man — Mike Pereira of FOX Sports — said that this was, in fact, not a delay-of-game penalty on Florida:

Let me be clear: I do not treat what Pereira says as gospel. Moreover, this is not a criticism of him. I make plenty of errors when assessing calls at first glance, when subsequent and better camera angles show that I am wrong. I have also assumed various rules to have existed when in fact they did not. I am hardly unique in being able to interpret plays or weigh in on rules. This might come across as a laughable statement to readers who have followed me to The Student Section from my previous home at College Football News. Yet, it’s reality. Pereira is an authority; he has earned the right to be seen as one. He has put in far more time and study, and moreover, he has provided — and is still providing — a product which has greatly increased the knowledge base of the American football fan, college or pro.

What’s important to note about Pereira’s tweet on Kentucky-Florida, though, is that it backs up the SEC’s statement in one crucial respect.

You’ll note that the piece of officiating mechanics in this case is to see if the ball is moving when the clock hits zero. The process of the snap should be initiated by that point in time. The on-field official is being expected to look at the play clock and then the action of the snap. One man is being expected to do two things.

Can we all acknowledge — Kentucky fans and Florida fans, those who thought the call was right (a few officiating experts) and those who thought the call was wrong (most Americans) — how silly this is?

There’s a way to fix this problem for good… and it’s a problem which has emerged many times before, though not necessarily in situations confined to play clocks.

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Recall the 2011 Auburn-South Carolina game? The Gamecocks got a first down in the final few seconds, but there was an ever-so-slight time lag between the time when South Carolina gained its first down and the time when the clock was actually stopped. This seemed like an instance in which improper officiating mechanics were displayed. However, it was — and is — true that the clock stops not when a first-down-gaining ballcarrier hits the ground. The clock stops when the official waves his arms over his head, making the “stop-clock” signal that the clock operator then recognizes as the time when the clock has to be stopped. That’s a small nuance, but it meant everything in that situation because it prevented South Carolina from having one extra second on the clock, the second that might have been able to allow the Gamecocks to then attempt the field goal they were never able to get off.

I wrote about this incident and the new understanding of the rules it needed to give to the community of college football fans. 

What’s relevant about that incident, in reference to the Kentucky-Florida controversy from this past weekend, is that there’s a way in which to make last-second clock issues so much easier to handle: Make them just like basketball.

Let’s be clear here: Officials do mess up from time to time in basketball, as shown in the Colorado-Arizona game from January of 2013:

Yet, how many times has replay in college basketball — with the use of a red light and tenths of a second on the clock — been able to correctly adjust a ruling on a last-second shot (the same goes for the NBA)? This has been a godsend for basketball at both the college and pro levels. It’s a clear way in which expansive use of replay technology has prevented injustices such as this one from recurring very often:

Back in 1990, when Kenny Anderson’s jumper for Georgia Tech against Michigan State in the Southeast Regional semifinals clearly came after the double-zero and the Superdome horn, there was no red light around the backboard, and there were no tenths of seconds to provide granular detail on last-second plays in college basketball. That was precisely the kind of incident which made it clear that the sport had to adjust.

Now, shift back to football.

With all the dollars being poured into football, and with this sport being a cash cow for collegiate athletics and its member conferences, just exactly why do we not have:

A) red lights around the play clocks;

B) the ability to then coordinate reviews involving the use of the red light, in much the same way that’s done for basketball;

and 

C) tenths of seconds on both game clocks and play clocks, something basketball official John Barrow — a reader of mine back at College Football News — talked to me about in the wake of the Auburn-South Carolina game from 2011?

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The current officiating mechanics were properly applied in Kentucky-Florida… and that’s the problem. One man is being expected to look in two places — play clock and then center snap — to make a judgment in the heat of competition and last-second game pressure.

We can make this so much simpler: Put in a red light, tenths of seconds, and a replay-review process to arrive at clear decisions.

Remember this about the divide between pre-tenths-of-seconds college basketball history and post-tenths-of-seconds history:

When Kenny Anderson hit that shot for Georgia Tech in 1990, the absence of tenths of seconds made it seem as though “0:00” was in fact “0:00.” This is why the need to put in a red light — a visual aid, not an audial one — became so acute. Yet, before tenths of seconds made their way to game clocks, please realize that after “0:01” hit on the game clock, one more FULL second had to elapse:

Measured in tenths of seconds, that full second counts down like this:

0:00.9

0:00.8

… and so on, finishing with:

0:00.2

0:00.1

0:00.0

With tenths of seconds, everyone gets to see the full final second of a game clock or play clock count to zero.

We don’t have to force officials to look in two places at the same time. We can just go to the review. It’s only if the last tenth of a second is a question that the “ball has begun to move or not” principle needs to be worried about.

This is the simple fix to Saturday’s problem. There’s frankly no excuse for a billion-dollar industry to skimp on this kind of technology, or other kinds of technology such as cameras looking straight up on the upright, so that field goals can be instantly and cleanly reviewed.

Your move, college football. The solution is right in front of you. The Kentucky-Florida controversy does not have to recur ever again.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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