In a bizarre sideline scene Saturday, USC athletic director Pat Haden, who is also a member of the new College Football Playoff selection committee, left the press box in the third quarter of a tied game against No. 13 Stanford to voice his frustration with officials about an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against coach Steve Sarkisian.
Haden, clearly animated when he spoke to the officials, explained to ESPN's Heather Cox: "I got a text to come down [to the field] because Sark wanted to talk to me."
"He felt the call on him was unfair and the referee explained he had warned him and that's why he got the penalty, but it's been a really frustrating quarter with the penalties, believe me. We got the right answer, we can move on, and have a good fourth quarter."
"I wasn't arguing with the officials. Officials and athletic directors can disagree, and I'm usually wrong. ... I've never been asked to go down [to the sideline], so when I was asked, I went down."USC AD Pat Haden
Haden said the text message came from a compliance staff member.
According to the NCAA rule book, Section 3, Article 11-B: "Only voice communication between the press box and team area is permitted. Where press-box space is not adequate, only voice communication may originate from any area in the stands between the 25-yard lines extended to the top of the stadium. No other communication for coaching purposes is permitted anywhere else."
According to Rogers Redding, the NCAA's National Coordinator of Officials, the only voice communication is allowed in the bench area, and text messaging or faxing is not allowed. Redding told ESPN's Brett McMurphy there is no penalty for breaking the rule.
"If the other team observes it, they can notify the officials and then they would inform that school they can't communicate that way anymore," Redding said. "It's an administration management thing. Technically it's not allowed, but the spirit of the rule is for coaches or coaching purposes."
The College Football Playoff does not send its committee members to games, so Haden was acting in his role as the school's athletic director, but his involvement in the game raised an already hot topic about bias from the 13 committee members. Haden is recused from voting for USC, but not for Stanford.
There is no rule in the playoff that prevents him from speaking with officials on behalf of his school during a game, but it's unusual for an athletic director to have any involvement in the game.
The committee will begin meeting in October and release its first rankings Oct. 28. The group will not only choose and seed the teams to play in the national semifinals, but it will also pick some of the teams that will play in the other New Year's bowl games. Haden is one of five active athletic directors on the committee, along with Dan Radkovich of Clemson, Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin, Oliver Luck of West Virginia and committee chairman Jeff Long of Arkansas.
Asked if he was concerned about the appearance created by a member of the selection committee on the field engaging the officials, Haden shook his head and said, "I'm the athletic director of my team as well."
Through spokeswoman Gina Lehe, College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock declined comment on the incident at Stanford with Haden because he had not had a chance to see it. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told reporters the league will be reviewing the situation.
"Obviously I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect," Sarkisian said after the game. "You can't be in the white at any time and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law I was incorrect.
"I didn't feel like I was in a position to continue to discuss that with the officiating crew. I felt like I was better off having Pat get in between and make sure everybody knew what was going on. I was in a frame of mind -- I was in a competitive mode, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do."
Haden spent the rest of the game, which USC held on to win 13-10, inside the players' box on the Trojans sideline, frequently no more than a few feet from Sarkisian. Despite being photographed and filmed speaking with the officials in an animated fashion, Haden categorically denied that he was arguing after the game.
"By the time I got there it had all been worked out," Haden said. "I was just an innocent bystander. There was a funny flow to the game, just funny."
Asked if he felt he had overstepped his bounds as AD by arguing with officials from the sideline, Haden said, "I wasn't arguing with the officials. Officials and athletic directors can disagree, and I'm usually wrong. ... I've never been asked to go down [to the sideline], so when I was asked, I went down. Whatever penalty was called, they'd hashed it out and Sark said, 'I was wrong.'"
Information from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, ESPN The Magazine's Tim Keown and The Associated Press was used in this report.