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Saunders: Officials Need Improvement, But Stripes Weren’t Reason For Pitt’s Loss

Saunders: Officials Need Improvement, But Stripes Weren’t Reason For Pitt’s Loss

After watching the game film of Pitt’s 19-14 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame last Saturday, I regret to inform Pitt fans that the game officials were not out to get them.

Yes, I’m aware that back judge Gary Dancewicz, who made a questionable pass interference call against Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson in the fourth quarter on Saturday, is the grandson of a Notre Dame quarterback.

Dancewicz was also on the Big East officiating crew that worked the 2012 game between Pitt and Notre Dame in South Bend that likewise saw a questionable late-game pass interference call and additionally saw the officiating crew miss the Irish fielding two players with the uniform No. 2 at the same time, a coincidence that had Pitt fans aflame after the Panthers’ 19-14 loss.

Now part of the ACC officiating crew that was assigned Saturday’s game, made a split-second call that certainly required a degree of judgement. Jackson definitely impeded the progress of Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool. Did he impede it enough to warrant a foul? I would probably say no, but that’s what a judgement call is, and it’s not mine to make, or anyone else’s to make.

There were plenty of other questionable judgement calls in the game that went one way or the other. For better or worse, that’s part of the game as it exists in 2018.

In general, the talent level of college football officials is not equal to the relative abilities of the players on the field. That’s likely always going to be the case. But the across-the-board standard is, at least in my opinion, not high enough.

When I review the film of most games, I pick up plenty of calls that I think were missed, and not just judgement calls. There are plenty of actually missed calls, poor procedure and unsure applications of the rules.

But in most of those cases, just like Saturday against Notre Dame, there was no vast conspiracy or hometown bent to the way the game was officiated.

Dancewicz is apparently fairly good at what he does. He was selected to work the ACC Championship Game in 2017. The year before, he was part of the crew for the Alamo Bowl.

I said on my show at Pittsburgh Sports Live last Friday that it’s past time for the NCAA to step in and nationalize and standardize college football officiating. This is just one more place where taking those steps would have benefited college football.

If there was a greater confidence in the abilities of the game officials on a week-to-week basis, the coincidence that Dancewicz was officiating where his grandfather played would likely just be a blip.

Instead, Pitt fans are feeling aggrieved and the integrity of a man that appears to be on the best at his craft has been brought into question. There ought to be a better way.

But in this case, as in most, it wasn’t the officials that decided the game in favor of Notre Dame, or even tipped the scales in the favor of the Fighting Irish. Two plays after Jackson was penalized, he gave up a 35-yard touchdown pass. Pitt kicker Alex Kessman missed two field goals well within his range. Pitt’s sputtering passing offense couldn’t covert when the Panthers needed it to in crunch time. Pat Narduzzi made he bizarre decision to try for a fake punt with his third-string quarterback. All of those things are why the Panthers’ upset bid came up short, not the men in the striped shirts.

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