- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Like the SEC earlier this season, the Big East had a couple of controversial calls go in favor of ranked teams this past weekend.
Unlike the SEC, there hasn't been much public squawking about it.
I called the Big East today to see if the league wanted to comment on the two most debated calls of the weekend: the Isaiah Pead fumble/touchdown in Cincinnati's 24-21 win over West Virginia and the Jimmy Clausen incompletion/fumble in Pitt's 27-22 victory over Notre Dame.
The Big East has admitted officiating mistakes before, perhaps most notably in the UConn fair/foul catch debacle against Louisville two years ago. But so far, the league is remaining mum about last weekend's calls.
"We don't anticipate announcing anything," said conference football spokesman Chuck Sullivan, who noted that most conversations about officiating remain an internal matter within the league.
To review the two calls:
In Friday's game, Cincinnati trailed 14-7 with 5:29 left when Isaiah Pead rushed to the goal line and lost control of the ball. West Virginia recovered. Officials on the field ruled it a fumble, but the replay review from upstairs overturned the call and awarded the Bearcats a touchdown. (You can watch the play here: click on key plays and scroll down to second quarter where it says Touchdown - Cin).
On Saturday, Pitt led 27-22 but Notre Dame had the ball when Greg Romeus hit Clausen's arm as he tried to pass with 2:10 left. The ball squirted away and was ruled an incompletion on the field. But the replay officials changed that to a fumble and gave Pitt the ball. (Watch that one here; again, click on key plays, scroll to the fourth quarter and go to Start of ND drive -- 3:39).
I can't see how either play was overturned. The standard is supposed to be indisputable evidence, and after watching both plays at least a dozen times each, I can't say for sure what happened, nor can I believe the replay officials saw anything that was beyond reasonable doubt. In that case, then, the decision on the field should be the one that stands. The Notre Dame-Pitt call was especially strange, because the play was ruled dead on the field, though if it were a fumble, it should have been a live ball that Pitt recovered.
The Pitt-Notre Dame call was not as big of an issue to me, because the Irish would have been facing fourth-and-16 after the incompletion and had had trouble moving the ball effectively against the Panthers defense. The Pead call was more important because it involved points in a crucial conference game, and Cincinnati only won by three.
Did those calls decide the game? No. I generally believe that one call, unless it's at the very end, should not be blamed for a loss. Teams have many opportunities to make up for such calls, and indeed, West Virginia got stopped on a fourth down deep in Cincinnati territory in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers should only point fingers at themselves.
But whenever controversial calls go in favor of a school that fans perceive as a team the league needs to win -- and make no mistake, the Big East would love to have Cincinnati be 11-0 and Pitt be 10-1 on Dec. 5 -- then you're going to have conspiracy theorists cry foul.
The Big East doesn't need coaches squabbling publicly about officiating each week like in the SEC. But it would be nice if the league would make some sort of public statement as to whether the calls were right or wrong to at least provide some transparency to the process.