Sports Football

Many questions about officiating from Ohio-Michigan game

By Torben Rolfsen

Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel runs the ball against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel runs the ball against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Michigan 30-27 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Imagine getting to officiate your favourite team’s biggest game of the season.

It sounds like a sports fan’s fantasy, but it happened for real Saturday in Columbus, Ohio for the 113th annual meeting between college football rivals University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

In a double-overtime thriller that will instantly pass into series lore, the home team Ohio prevailed 30-27 to secure a spot in the four-team national playoff.

It was just the second time the two teams have met while both were ranked in the national top three.

The two head coaches - Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh - were both born (less than seven months apart) in Toledo, Ohio, the city at the two states’ border which traditionally has split loyalties in the rivalry.

It was the first time in the series that the game went into overtime.

On fourth down and short in the second OT, with OSU trailing 27-24 and the game hanging in the balance, the Buckeyes’ tough quaterback, J.T. Barrett, kept the ball and appeared to be stopped just shy of the 15-yard line, which he needed for the first down.

Game over, Michigan wins.

But wait: the officials awarded a favourable spot, and video reviews were not conclusive enough to overturn the call on the field.

Ohio State scored on the next play, sending 110,045 people (not counting the refs) into bedlam.

The fourth down play has already been dissected more than the JFK Zapruder film. (For what it's worth, word from the press box was that no one thought he made it.)

Michigan supporters instantly cried foul.

Interesting background details emerged on the officiating crew: one was barred from reffing the huge 2006 UM-OSU game for admitting his loyalties to the Buckeyes. Another had previously been fired by the Big Ten conference back in 2002 for egregious errors. A third was recently inducted into the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s hall of fame (ceremony in Columbus).

All from Ohio, all Buckeye fans.

And all part of the peculiar madness of college football in America. A champion partially chosen in ways that at times is not dissimilar from figure skating.

The very first game of a season is really like the start of a playoff. (Imagine the first round of a playoff where you get to choose your opponent and never play a road game.)

In the case of the Big Ten this year, the conference’s two best teams just played and neither will go to this Saturday’s championship game: due to a divisional setup and imbalanced schedule, Penn State and Wisconsin will meet while OSU and UM stay home.

College fan bases dwell on officiating like no other sports. They also suffer the cruel but beautiful agony of only playing a rival once a year.

Circle your calendars for November 25, 2017, when the two teams will meet again in Ann Arbor.

Maybe by then the Big Ten will do a better job vetting their officials.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.