You’ll recall in the first overtime of the game against the Florida Gators where Kentucky had Florida at 2nd and 7 on the Kentucky 9 yard line. The Gators took too long to snap the football and the play clock expired before the ball was snapped. The officials did not call a delay of game and Florida scored. Here’s the video:
As you can see, it is a very close call. The ball, in slow-motion video, was clearly in the center’s hand at zero, but about a half-second later the ball is snapped. There is no doubt whatever that the no-call was wrong, but there is also little doubt that it was so close it’s probably difficult to discern without the aid of video. Difficult, but by no means impossible.
The SEC addressed Mark Stoops’ obvious concerns about this, and make no mistake, Stoops was hot under the collar about the no-call and had a right to be. The SEC, predictably, backed the officials:
At the request of the University of Kentucky, consistent with SEC protocol, the conference office reviewed the fourth down play in the first overtime of the Kentucky-Florida game and has determined the officials applied the proper mechanics and guidelines that are in place to determine when a flag should be thrown for delay of game. The back judge is responsible for delay of game calls. The procedure for the back judge is for his eyes to stay on the clock when it nears zero. When the clock hits zero, he immediately looks from the clock to the ball. If the ball is moving, there is no delay of game. If the ball is stationary, a delay of game penalty is called.
This is a filibuster, pure and simple. What it says is that the officials were in the right place and performed the right actions. It does not say that the call was correct, because it clearly wasn’t.
While this ruling certainly won’t placate fans who are sure that Florida got a lucky break — and disregard the idea that Florida would’ve been able to run another play anyway — it really ought to be the final word on the play.
There's no doubt Florida got a lucky break, but that and "disregarding the idea..." are not mutually exclusive things. The final word on that was given a long time ago, and that was by the official failing to call the play correctly. The officials utilized "proper mechanics" and got the wrong result. Whether or not that means we need to change the mechanics is a question for another day and another time if ever, but the result was clearly wrong, even if it was a very close call — neither of those two facts should be in dispute.
Here is the reality:
All of this is academic. The play could not be overturned, and there have been worse injustices by officials in football games;
The play was called incorrectly. The margin is slight, but by no means undetectable even in game conditions;
Officiating errors happen in football games all the time, and almost none of them are correctable;
The error is certainly within the range that one could be forgiven for getting it wrong under game conditions.
Basically, the SEC is saying if you read between the lines (without actually saying much of anything meaningful) that yes, the officials got it wrong, but it was forgivable. I think that sentiment is right, even if it would be better if they had just said that. Every human being, even the most partisan, knows that distinguishing fractions of a second under pressure is demanding in the extreme, and expecting humans to discriminate that finely and always get it right is not rational or reasonable. We can lament the outcome, we can lament that the call was wrong, but the official did his best and just missed it. It happens multiple times in every football game everywhere in America.
As Andy pointed out, Florida got lucky. If the outcome had gone otherwise and Florida been penalized for 5 yards, it would’ve been 4th and 12. The same play Jeff Driskel ran to Demarcus Robinson would have been just as successful from the 14 as from the 9, assuming it happened again just like that.
Of course, from the other the other side of the coin, if Florida had been in 4th and 12, it might have affected the play call on both sides of the ball, and the result might have been a Kentucky victory. We will never know, but I’m not sure you can peg Kentucky’s probability of success in 4th and 12 as being vastly greater than in 4th and 7. Marginally? Surely yes, and sometimes that matters. Unfortunately, we'll never know if it would've or not, but life must go on.
So now we have the final word, I think, at least around here. I’m certainly done with it.