SEATTLE Seemingly everyone has a strong opinion about the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Washington quarterback Jake Locker after scoring a touchdown in the final seconds against No. 18 BYU pundits, coaches, even the manager of the New York Yankees.
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham decided to weigh in with his thoughts on Monday, two days after giving a reserved response following the Huskies' 28-27 loss to the Cougars.
His opinion, like so many others: The refs were wrong.
"I think we all know that was not the right call ...," Willingham said. "It's an opportunity to use discretion, and it was not used. The proper judgment was not used. That was not an act of a young man taunting. That was not an unsportmanlike act at all and therefore it should have been viewed in its totality and not just in the letter of the law."
Locker was flagged on Saturday after tumbling into the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run with 2 seconds left in regulation to pull Washington within 28-27, capping a 17-play, 76-yard drive where Locker accounted for every yard either running or passing. As he rolled to his feet, Locker threw his hands in the air, sending the ball sailing upward, before beginning to celebrate with his teammates.
"To be totally honest I didn't even realize I had done it at the time," Locker said on Monday. "I got to the sideline and heard the official say there was an unsportamanlike penalty and I was like, 'Who was that on? (They) must have done something stupid.' Then he said it was on No. 10, and I was like, 'Gosh, what did I do."'
Officials immediately called a penalty because, as a point of emphasis for officials this year, Locker violated one part of the excessive celebration rule in the NCAA rule book throwing the ball in the air. The penalty was assessed on the extra-point, turning a chip shot into a 35-yard attempt. Kicker Ryan Perkins' attempt was low and blocked by BYU's Jan Jorgensen, preserving the Cougars' victory.
Pac-10 coordinator of football officiating Dave Cutaia agrees that it is a harsh penalty but fully supported the call based on how the rule is written.
"Every call is a judgment call," Cutaia said. "(The official) saw the ball thrown very high in the air and made the call. I can't say the call is incorrect."
Cutaia would like to see the rule amended so actions like Locker's don't draw as severe a penalty as players who openly taunt the opposition or showboat following plays.
"The rule unfortunately is very specific. ... Perhaps a rule change is in order to make it not so severe," he said.
Not that a rule change would make the Huskies feel any better, now 0-2 and with No. 3 Oklahoma coming in on Saturday.
Locker's initial response questioning what he did wrong was the prevailing theme among commentators and pundits following Saturday's game. Columnists from New York to Los Angeles weighed in with the prevailing belief that no one would have cared if the called had not been made. Even New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a passing comment before Sunday's series finale in Seattle against the Mariners saying the call on Locker was "horrible."
Coaches, meanwhile, have been reluctant to criticize the call. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops no stranger to controversy with Pac-10 officials declined to comment on Monday, although he said he'd seen the play.
Two years ago, Oregon beat Oklahoma in Eugene after a blown call on an onside kick led to Oregon's winning touchdown in the final minute.
The Pacific-10 Conference admitted that the ball was touched by an Oregon player before it traveled the required 10 yards, and possession should have been awarded to Oklahoma.
The league suspended the officials responsible for one game including Cutaia, who was the referee.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville wondered if the officials were being too picky.
"There's not a lot of fun in football if you can't celebrate and have a good time. It's kind of structured too much," Tuberville said. "But a rule's a rule. They were pretty picky on that, but I can't say they were wrong because there is that rule."
Willingham questioned the explanation given by referee Larry Farina following the game, where Farina said, "it was not a judgment call." Willingham's contention is that officials are allowed to use discretion on every call made. Willingham and Cutaia spoke over the weekend about the call, but neither would elaborate on their conversation.
"I believe that from the time they start the ballgame they have the ability to call what they believe is a foul, and what is not a foul they have the ability to let that go," Willingham said. "I think it's clear. You always have a choice and they had a choice."