Gary Moeller, Michigan’s football coach, has received a rare apology for an officiating mistake made Saturday that cost his team its No. 1 national ranking.
But unlike the Big Eight officiating crew that was suspended after giving Colorado a fifth down in its victory over Missouri Oct. 6, the error will not cost the Big Ten crew any immediate suspension or penalty.
The apology came in a phone call to Moeller from Dave Parry, Big Ten supervisor of officials.
Moeller was quoted by the Associated Press at a media gathering Monday: “He (Parry) was just calling up to say how he felt about the matter, that they had talked to the officials. He told me they blew it. He said they missed it on the pass interference.”
Michigan State defeated Michigan, 28-27, when the Wolverines’ try for a two-point conversion with six seconds to play was disrupted by the Spartans’ Eddie Brown, who bumped and then tripped receiver Desmond Howard in the end zone. The pass from Elvis Grbac bounced out of the hands of a stumbling, sprawling Howard; no penalty was called.
Parry, reached Monday night at his home in Michigan City, Ind., said his policy is not to change anything once the season starts. “Yes, the crew has a game. As of now, they are working a game this Saturday.”
The crew working the Michigan State-Michigan game consisted of John Nealon, referee; Wilson Jackson, side judge; Frank Strocchia, umpire; Ed Peters, linesman; Tom Hoffman, line judge; Mike Sheehan, field judge, and Kenny Baker, back judge. It was the same crew that had overlooked a key forward lateral in the Illinois-Ohio State game the previous week that went for a touchdown and an Illinois victory.
“I was at that game, and I knew it as soon as I saw the lateral,” said Parry, a former NFL official, who retired last season from NFL games after a hip operation. “I called both John Cooper of Ohio State and John Mackovic of Illinois after that one, too.”
Parry would not criticize specific officials, but another source said that the call in the Michigan State-Michigan game was Jackson’s to make. And the source said that that call has become more difficult this year because Parry has dictated NFL techniques that would put an official in Jackson’s position from five to eight yards farther away from the play than in the past. Last year, Jackson would have been well into the field of play; this year, he was seven yards deep in the end zone and standing on the sideline as the play began.
Parry denied that that was an issue.
“Yes, we take a wider stance and get back a bit on a play like that,” Parry said. “We think the wider view is better.”
Parry said that Moeller handled the phone call graciously and even had some complimentary things to say, in general, about officiating.
“My heart goes out to these referees,” Parry said. “They worked 59 minutes and 54 seconds about as well as you can work, and then all hell broke loose.
“Timing has so much to do with this sort of thing. Officials have now had three toughies in eight days (including the Colorado game).”
Moeller, as quoted by AP, indicated that what happened to him and his team Saturday could be the catalyst for instant replay in college football. But he also was realistic about that.
“I think it’s ready for that, but I don’t know if we can afford it,” he said. “What do we do if the game’s not on TV? What do you do with schools that can’t afford the equipment?”