The Real College Football Officiating Conspiracy

Monday, October 19, 2009

Army fell victim to Temple on Saturday, well... Temple and the referees, but the Army Temple game was nothing compared to one prime example of crooked officiating and some good old home cooking.

Since the Steelers played the Cleveland Browns this weekend, I was already thinking about the history of Pittsburgh vs Cleveland football. It's been a long time since Cleveland has been competitive in the NFL's PIT/CLE rivalry. I'm not a big NFL fan to begin with, but I do know that these teams have had a serious rivalry since the two teams were first paired in the AFC Central division in 1970. The two cities had competitive baseball as early as 1887 when both cities fielded National League teams (Cleveland Spiders and Pittsburgh Pirates), but the original Pittsburgh - Cleveland rivalry was realized in the collegiate football arena in 1918. Even as late as 1937 there was no tangible on the field rivalry between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, the topic was not moot in the public realm.

Consider this letter to the editor from the Nov. 23rd, 1937 Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

So to all the Army fans grumbling about the MAC refs at the Army/Temple game... allow me to highlight an example of the poorest of poor officiating. Let's take a look at the 1918 postseason game between Pitt and the Cleveland Naval Reserve football team. The 1918 college football season was truncated by World War I and the deadly Spanish flu pandemic, with many schools suspending play as a cost saving measure.

In no small part due to Pitt coach Pop Warner's efforts, the Pitt team was elite and widely known. Pitt was undefeated for three straight seasons going into 1918. Like most shools, Pitt conducted operations under military discipline, but fortunately, Pitt's Student Army Training Corps were fans of the Pitt team... so the Panthers were allowed to play. They played a truncated season of three games with two games added on the fly: John Heisman's unscored upon Georgia Tech team, and Cleveland Naval Reserve. The panthers won their three games then destroyed Heisman's Yellow Jackets 32-0, and in late November 1918, set out for Cleveland to play the Reserves.

By all accounts the officiating in this game was awful and set Pitt up for what remains today as their most controversial gridiron loss.
Tom Perrin wrote about this game in his book, Football: A College History © 1987

Pitt met the Cleveland Naval Reserve in a postseason game, Pitt scored just six minutes in but the Reserve team bullied the officials so much that the penaties were overlooked, The half ended a minute early when the Panthers reached the goal, and six minutes were added to the last period. During this extra timePitt fell on a fumble, but the Reserves would not give up the ball. After Warner said, "Play it out," a Reserve pass to Pete Stinchcomb from Moon Ducote won it and Pitt's four year win streak was fini."

These offenses were well documented. This article from the New York Times holds a fantastic account of the game from Pop Warner himself:

Cleveland Indians baseball player Ray Chapman was one of the homers leaning on the refs. Interesingly, Ray Chapman holds another strange footnote in sports history as the last baseball player to die from a playing injury from a Major League baseball game. He was hit by a pitch in 1920 and died in the hospital soon after.

So when we start to think that Army got the shaft from the refs at Temple, just consider that these were a few ticky-tack fouls, a few rough replay reviews and that's to be expected when you rely on the other team's conference officiating crews. Let's put it in perspective that there are still 5 games left to qualify for a bowl and Army's bowl hopes are still intact. More than that, there is no conspiracy MAC or otherwise trying to pin losses on the Black Knights. If Army wants to snag the Eagle Bank Bowl from the clutches of the MAC Empire it is upon themselves to do it. I suggest they start with this nationally televised Rutgers game.



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