TEMPE, Ariz. — The Pac-12 Conference has reprimanded the officials in Saturday night’s game between Wisconsin and Arizona State for their actions in the bizarre closing seconds.
The Pac-12 said the officials did not act with enough urgency or properly handle the end of game situation when Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave awkwardly took a knee and the clock ran out on the Badgers in the ensuing confusion.
“This was an unusual situation to end the game,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement on Monday. “After a thorough review, we have determined that the officials fell short of the high standard in which Pac-12 games should be managed. We will continue to work with all our officials to ensure this type of situation never occurs again.”
The strange finish came after Wisconsin drove to Arizona State’s 13-yard line with 18 seconds left.
Trying to set the Badgers up for a game-winning field goal, Stave ran left and tried to take a knee in the middle of the field.
He clipped one of his offensive linemen while trying to go down and plopped the ball onto the yard marker before hopping up quickly.
Players from both teams were confused by the play and the Sun Devils dove on the ball, thinking it was a fumble. Wisconsin lost precious seconds while the Arizona State players were pulled off and a few more when one of the officials held the Badgers at the line of scrimmage before allowing them to snap the ball.
Wisconsin tried to get a play off so it could spike the ball, but ran out of time. Arizona State won 32-30.
The Pac-12 said neither the referee nor anyone on his crew moved with appropriate urgency to clearly communicate that the ball was to be spotted so play could resume promptly.
“It doesn’t change the outcome obviously and, like I said earlier, I don’t expect that,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “But, it’s accountability and at the end of the day, that’s what we asked for.”
One aspect of the play that seemed to throw everyone off was Stave planting the ball on the field and backing away.
One Wisconsin player started to lunge toward the ball after seeing it lying on the ground and Arizona State’s players converged on it as their coaches yelled from the sideline that it was a fumble.
Andersen said Stave did exactly what he was taught to do.
“The idea of him putting the ball on the ground is to give the officials the opportunity to get the ball spotted quicker and cleaner,” Andersen said. “The officials, wherever they were, but they weren’t there to turn around and get the ball. That whole process of Joel looking around behind him, walking back there, where am I going to put the ball, how am I going to put the ball, that takes time, that takes valuable seconds and moments.”
Arizona State coach Todd Graham was initially fooled by Stave’s quick kneel-down, believing his knee never hit the ground — the reason he and his staff were yelling at their players to cover the ball.
After watching the play on film, Graham saw that Stave’s knee did hit the ground and that the way he went down seemed to throw everyone off.
“There’s a human element to this game,” Graham said. “You win or you lose. We won and let’s move onto the next deal. Obviously, that was a very unusual deal.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert was asked about the final sequence, but said the NCAA only gets involved if there seems to be a systemic problem and not just one blown call.
But even he was surprised by the ending.
“I thought that was a really, really weird ending to the game,” he said while in Milwaukee.
It certainly was.