Pac-12 commissioner: 'We made a mistake' in third-party officiating controversy

In the wake of a Yahoo Sports story on Wednesday night that revealed interference by an untrained “third party” that overruled a targeting call during a game between Washington State and USC, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced significant changes to the league’s officiating protocols on Thursday.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that we made a mistake in our procedure,” Scott told Yahoo Sports on Thursday morning. “We want to eliminate any ambiguity from that.”

The Pac-12 will takes steps to address the issue both immediately and in the long term. The first will be the elimination of any influence from both the director of officiating, David Coleman, and senior vice president of business affairs, Woodie Dixon during the in-game replay review process. (Dixon is in charge of football in the league and was identified as the “third party” who telephoned in to negate the targeting call on USC.) Scott said it was important to eliminate even the perception that “any conference staff” could be “involved in driving a decision in real time.”

The play in question: Washington State’s Logan Tago delivered a late blow to the head of USC quarterback JT Daniels. (Credit: ESPN)
The play in question: Washington State’s Logan Tago delivered a late blow to the head of USC quarterback JT Daniels. (Credit: ESPN)

The league will also conduct a review, in which Scott will engage with the Pac-12 membership and stakeholders like coaches, presidents and athletic directors. The league will also survey other leagues for benchmarks and practices to find the way they handle replay decisions.

Late Wednesday night, Yahoo Sports reported that an internal Pac-12 document revealed a Pac-12 executive, Dixon, overruled a targeting foul by telephoning into the conference’s command center in San Francisco. The document obtained by Yahoo Sports revealed that both formal layers of the replay process – the in-stadium review and replay officials in the command center – had ruled a call in Washington State’s game at USC on Sept. 21 as targeting. But instead of ejecting the Washington State player, Logan Tago, as the trained officials determined, the document maintained that the player stayed in the game because of Dixon’s call. Dixon is not a trained official.

The document obtained by Yahoo Sports stated: “Both the replay booth and the command center agreed this was a targeting foul, but unfortunately a third party did not agree so the targeting was removed and we went with the ruling on the field of [roughing the passer] with no targeting.”

The Pac-12 responded to the revelation by Yahoo Sports in a statement by attempting to say Dixon typically sits in the command center, which would not make him a third party. Scott ultimately determined the “misperception” of someone other than Bill Richardson, the instant replay supervisor, making the final calls in replay situations was a “concern.”

The story sent shockwaves through the Pac-12 footprint, as the league has long struggled for consistency in officiating. The targeting non-call on Tago wasn’t even the most controversial missed targeting call in that game, as officials and replay both failed to flag on the field or formally review an obvious targeting on USC star Porter Gustin.

The Yahoo Sports story was published on the eve of Pac-12’s basketball media day, bringing an extra layer of scrutiny to the “third party” interference and an urgency for the league to make changes.

Scott addressed the scandal at the podium on Thursday.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve made mistakes in terms of our procedures involved with replay review in the command center,” Scott said. “We mixed administrative oversight and leadership with real-time replay review calls made by experts on the field, in the stadium, and in the command center. Moreover, we’ve allowed for ambiguity about who’s got the final call and who makes the ultimate decisions in replay review.”

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