There’s no interview subject better than someone heading off into retirement, and, it turns out, there’s no better retirement interview subject than an outgoing referee. They’ve got bridges to burn and scores to settle like the rest of us, only they know the game and the coaches like very few of us.
After 20 years refereeing Big Ten football games, Dan Capron called it quits at the end of the 2019 campaign, and in an interview posted Monday with the Chicago Tribune he came clean on all the calls he missed. Or, all the calls he saw the other refs on his crews missed.
And the biggest one, no doubt, was the offsides call against Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship.
To reset: Georgia carried a 13-0 lead into halftime, forcing Nick Saban to insert then-freshman Tua Tagovailoa into the game for the struggling incumbent Jalen Hurts. Alabama accepted the ball to open the second half, and Georgia’s defense immediately forced a three-and-out. Bulldogs wide receiver Tyler Simmons then blocked the ensuing punt, giving Georgia a golden opportunity to perhaps take a 20-0 lead and bury Alabama’s comeback before it could begin. Instead, Simmons was flagged for an offsides penalty that Capron now says was incorrect.
We had a miss. Alabama was on the ropes. They were deep in their own territory and they’re punting. The punt gets blocked. There’s a flag on the ground because the line judge had Georgia offside. Oh, boy. He (the player, Tyler Simmons) actually had a running start and timed it (properly). He wasn’t offside.
But that wasn’t my call. The blocking backs, a split-second before the snap, moved. That was a false start. That should have been my call. It still wouldn’t have been a blocked punt but instead a five-yard penalty against the offense. You never want to make a mistake of any kind in such a high-profile atmosphere.
Watch for yourself below. Not only was Simmons not offsides, he wasn’t even close.
The offsides penalty turned a 4th-and-8 into a 4th-and-3, so Georgia still got the ball, only with a roughly 50-yard difference in field position. Georgia went three-and-out on its first second half possession, Alabama scored a touchdown on its next chance and, of course, the Crimson Tide came back to win 26-23 in overtime.
Capron was also on the field for the infamous spot that decided the 2016 Ohio State-Michigan game. There, Capron doesn’t say definitively whether JT Barrett achieved the first down or was stopped short because, he says, no one can truly know for sure because ABC’s cameras didn’t do their job.
Of course the ruling on the field was that he made the line to gain (on fourth-and-1) and it was going to be a first down. The buzzers went off and it got kicked up to replay. I don’t know why the network didn’t have a camera right on the yard line. It was broadcasting malpractice. Because there was no camera on the yard line, there wasn’t a good angle to make the determination on an excruciatingly close call. I’m talking about within an inch. So replay couldn’t get a read on it, and they did what they’re supposed to do. The ruling on the field stands.
In this age of replay, it’s wild how much recent college football history has turned — consider how different Michigan and Georgia football feels right now had they won those games — on calls that technology should or could have corrected, but didn’t for one reason or another.
Speaking of replay, Capron weighed in that the scoop-and-score wiped off the board in December’s Fiesta Bowl never should’ve been overturned.
I’m not being critical of anybody, but once it goes upstairs, with the exception of targeting, the replay official is not supposed to re-officiate the play. The replay official is in the nature of an appellate court. And he is there to correct obvious mistakes. Unless there is indisputable video evidence that the call was wrong, the play stands.
Had the interview gone on a few questions longer, perhaps Capron could’ve told us where Malaysia Airlines flight 370 ended up.