You can’t just blame the refs

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I pride myself on my ability to keep it together — I’m the person you can never get to laugh when you play that dumb game where you try to see who will crack first — but Saturday in the press box for the Big Game, I just lost it. I just started laughing uncontrollably.

The game referees had just announced that Kenny Lawler’s catch, which was ruled a touchdown on the field, was “under further review,” the third time that phrase had been uttered in four plays.

On the previous two plays, Luke Rubenzer, who had gone in under center in place of Jared Goff, had looked like he had snuck into the endzone on two run plays, only to have both plays overturned after official reviews.

In the 14-plus years I’ve watched football, I had never seen anything like it. And it’s football, so you know there’s been some crazy stuff go down. But three touchdowns called back in a row? Are you freaking kidding me? Absolutely insane.

I can understand how the touchdowns might not all have been absolute touchdowns, but that really shouldn’t matter. In fact, the officiating rulebook, under Section 7, “Reversing an On-Field Ruling,” it states: “To reverse an on-field ruling, the replay official must be convinced beyond all doubt by indisputable video evidence through one or more video replays provided to the monitor.”

And in at least one of these cases, that couldn’t be done. Upon further review, the Lawler catch did, in fact, looked like it was bobbled as he came to the ground. So, upon that further review, the officials did, in fact, get it right. But on both Rubenzer runs, the ball was so close to the goal line that there wasn’t absolute, indisputable evidence that it wasn’t a touchdown. That second run up the middle was so close, and there wasn’t enough evidence to say he didn’t get that ball over that pesky white line.

So, yes, the officials sucked. Sonny Dykes was right to say those three overturned touchdowns were “shameful.” But they’re Pac-12 refs, so are people even the least bit surprised with the shoddy way this game was officiated?

The call should have stood. Cal should have gotten seven points on the board. The officials should not have overturned something they didn’t have absolute proof didn’t happen.

Mike Pereira, the former vice president of officiating in the NFL and current rules analyst for FOX Sports, saw the calls called back and disagreed strongly with what was called. In fact, he called the officials “bandits in the booth.”

And on that touchdown, they were.

Here’s the thing, though: The referees did not cost Cal the Big Game. It’s fine to say that sequence was unbelievably strange, but it’s not fine to say Cal lost to Stanford because of that call and one earlier — a targeting call (a completely fair decision) that caused starting safety Michael Lowe to be ejected on the game’s first play. Cal lost to Stanford because they were clearly the inferior team.

The Bears just had too many penalties — 12 for 113 yards, many of which were sloppy and uncalled for — to be able to beat the Cardinal. The Cal offense had too many turnovers — five, a few of which were deep in Stanford territory — to pull off the upset. And the defense just gave up too many yards to a quarterback and offense that had looked mediocre at best all season.

In this game, the refs screwed up big time, and that sucks. I hope those guys all are forced to reread and reread and reread and reread that rule book. Referee mistakes of that caliber have no place in important football games.

But don’t kid yourself into thinking a touchdown in that situation would have really changed things. Cal looked pretty well overmatched during the game, and that’s not something fans can blame on the officials.

Now, if you want to blame that on the coaches, that’s a whole different story.

Shannon Carroll covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @scarroll43.