Football officiating is a hard job. That goes without saying. You're in the midst of a hurricane, trying to discern whether a hand touched a face mask or a shoulder pad, whether that defensive end crossed the line of scrimmage a tenth of a second early. We all get that.
But -- you knew the but was coming, didn't you? -- at the major college level, the expectation should be that the officials correctly apply the rules, especially in crunch time. That hasn't been the case in the Big 12 this month.
We'll start with the Texas Tech-Baylor game on Oct. 12, where the officials incorrectly assessed Baylor with an illegal snap penalty, wiping out a Texas Tech fumble recovery that would have all but ended the game. Texas Tech would have had the ball knowing a field goal wins them the game; instead, Baylor won in double overtime.
The conference then privately admitted to Texas Tech the penalty was incorrect, and fined Red Raiders AD Kirby Hocutt for announcing that publicly.
A week later, officials cost Kansas a shot to upset Texas.
With KU leading 48-47 inside the final minute, Texas QB Sam Ehlinger ran for a first down and was tackled inbounds at his own 47-yard line with 32 seconds remaining. The clock stopped to reset the chains... and remained stuck at 32 seconds until the Longhorns snapped the ball.
“The clock should have started at 32 seconds after the quarterback made a first down,” Big 12 coordinator of football officials Greg Burks said on the Big 12 teleconference Monday. “The chains were reset, the referee wound the clock and we missed — I’m going to guess — 4 seconds there that should have come off the clock at that point.”
It's impossible to say this error by the on-field officials and the clock operator directly cost Kansas the game. Texas ran six more plays after Ehlinger's first down; had the clock started when it should have, that number is probably five. As it stood, Texas maneuvered to the KU 15, setting up a 33-yard Cameron Dicker field goal as time expired.
“I think they made a mistake. It’s fundamental, and I accept that,” Les Miles said Monday, via the Kansas City Star. “OK, 4 seconds probably meant a play, and back it up ... who knows?”
And then on Saturday, Big 12 officials overturned a pinball onside kick in which Oklahoma recovered the ball, but replay found the ball hit off Sooners wideout Trejan Bridges before it crossed 10 yards.
Replay also discovered Bridges made contact with a Kansas State player before touching the ball which, under certain circumstances, would wipe out Bridges' illegal touch and give Oklahoma the ball.
Except no one in the Big 12 offices seemed capable of giving a straight answer as to whether that rule was reviewable.
“The rulebook talks about ‘engaged’ and 'blocked-into.' As officials, what we discussed is active and passive," Burks said Monday, via the Tulsa World. "If a player is actively involved in a block and is touched by the ball, that is not considered to be forced touching. The additional contact by the second Oklahoma player (Austin Stogner) on this play, all of those things went together that had we ruled touching, I don't believe we would have had forced touching. But I want to reiterate, whether we would or wouldn't, that is not something that is reviewable. We can only review the touch."
As to why it took until Monday to get that explanation to the public, the Big 12 blamed the pool reporter on site, saying she asked the wrong question.
Winning games in a conference and deep and competitive as the Big 12 is difficult, and even more difficult when the rules aren't correctly applied. Here's hoping that changes as the calendar flips to November.