The Pac-12 experienced its first DEFCON 1 officiating breakdown in several years last weekend when the crew working in Pullman skipped second down for Washington State, went straight to third and eventually asked WSU and Oregon to replay the lost down.

The next day, the conference office issued a mea culpa. Criticism of Pac-12 officiating escalated from there.

The Hotline is firmly in the minority on this matter. While the gaffe last weekend was inexcusable, Pac-12 officiating has improved significantly in the past year or two.

We reached that conclusion after comparing the frequency of public mea culpas across the Power Five — situations so egregious that conferences were forced to publicly acknowledge mistakes.

There have been five headline-making instances of unacceptable officiating in the Pac-12 in the past four-plus seasons (2018-22).

But what leaped off our legal pad wasn’t the total; it was the concentration: Washington State was the victim in three of the five calamities.

Given the number of games since the start of the 2018 season, it’s beyond stunning for one team to be on the wrong end of 60 percent of the egregious mistakes.

Mostly, it’s terrible, awful, incomprehensibly bad luck for the Cougars.

Here are the five situations that entered the public realm:


– The infamous sequence in which the Pac-12 failed to call a targeting penalty on USC (against WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew) after a sequence in which the conference’s general counsel, Woodie Dixon, called into the replay command center and voiced his opinion.


– Officials failed to penalize an ASU player for leaping over the line of scrimmage while attempting to block Michigan State’s game-tying field goal.

– Officials declined to stop the clock for a replay review at the end of the Cal-Mississippi game, with the Rebels on the 1-yard line and seconds remaining.

– A kickoff return penalty on Cal that was erroneously assessed against WSU and cost the Cougars 57 yards in field position.


– The missed second down after WSU quarterback Cam Ward was called for intentional grounding.

Now, let’s be 1,000 percent clear:

We don’t believe for a second that there’s a conspiracy against the Cougars on the part of Pac-12 officials or the conference office.

In fact, the executives currently in charge of Pac-12 football — that would be commissioner George Kliavkoff and operations chief Merton Hanks — weren’t even working in the conference during the 2018 and 2019 fiascos.

Also, there is no connection between guilty parties. The person singularly at fault in the 2018 targeting fiasco was Dixon, who left the conference two years ago, while the 2019 mistake at Cal was made by the referee, Matt Richards, who wasn’t on the crew in Pullman on Saturday.

And yes, there have been other officiating breakdowns over the years. Every team has been on the wrong end of a call that leaves the head coach fuming and the fans seething.

A year ago this week, in fact, Oregon fans were livid about a last-second pass interference penalty on the Ducks in the end zone during a loss to Stanford.

While that call frustrated the offending team and sparked criticism on social media, it fell within the acceptable range of judgment decisions in the same fashion as so many other controversial calls every year. In every league.

To the best of our knowledge, the five instances cited above are the only situations since 2018 in which the conference office has been forced to publicly cop to a gaffe, indicating it was next-level in nature — outside the acceptable range of controversial calls.

And for reasons known only to the football gods, the Cougars were on the wrong end three times. They were, in fact, the only Pac-12 team on the wrong end of any of the five. (The other victims were Mississippi and Michigan State.)

Upon realizing this coincidence, the Hotline immediately sought comment from the laws of probability.

Alas, they declined.

So, what’s next?

Well, Pac-12 officiating must continue to improve, a process that takes several forms:

— Limit the headline-making mistakes.

While the SEC and Big Ten each had two next-level gaffes, as we outlined earlier in the week, the Pac-12 had none, zero, zip.

What happened Saturday in Pullman must be the outlier in 2022.

— Continue to streamline the operational facet.

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Two areas that receive little attention but have improved immensely in recent years: communication from officials about penalties or issues with the clock; and the time required for replay reviews.

The more efficiently on-field officials work with the replay booth and the command center in San Francisco, the better.

— Show the Cougars some respect.

Again, there is no conspiracy. None. The situation last weekend was an honest mistake.

As described by the conference:

“Washington State was called for an intentional grounding foul and the down indicator on the far side of the field changed immediately (too quickly) to 2nd down. When the Referee announced the loss of down penalty, the down indicator then changed to 3rd down (incorrectly).”

That said, the Pac-12 should give strong consideration to not assigning the offending crew to upcoming WSU games this season. Imagine if something went wrong, again. (At that point, we might start to wonder.)

There’s no reason to take the risk.

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