Dear Larry Scott


The below is an open letter from the editors and staff of Go Joe Bruin to Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference. It is occasioned by, but not solely concerned with, the 56-35 loss the UCLA Bruins football team suffered at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal on the evening of Thursday, October 15, 2015.

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Larry Scott
Commissioner, Pac-12 Conference
360 3rd Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94107

Commissioner Scott,

The October 15 football game between the Stanford Cardinal and the UCLA Bruins – won by the Cardinal, 56-35 – has prompted Go Joe Bruin, with only the most tenuous of claims to represent the broader UCLA fan base, to submit three requests for further consideration by yourself and the Pac-12 Conference. These requests do not only concern the aforementioned game, but are instead the logical end point of multiple long-held grievances among the Bruin faithful. Thank you in advance for considering the below:

1. Overhaul the football officiating staff and process.

We recognize and appreciate the efforts that the conference has taken of late to address what had become a nationally-recognized embarrassment: the state of Pac-12 football officiating. We were encouraged by the April 29 announcement from your office that the conference had hired David Coleman to fill the new role of Vice President of Officiating. We further understand that recruiting and developing competent staff is not an instant process.

However, Mr. Coleman’s remarks at the Pac-12 media day event on July 31 were concerning. When asked about the trend of the Pac-12 teams being among the most penalized in the nation in 2014, Mr. Coleman responded, ‘I can’t say. I don’t know about last year…Honestly, I can’t say…I think it’s a matter of looking at what happened last year and moving forward. I don’t want to give opinions.’ Of further concern was the sudden lack of time to take any further questions from the press because of a scheduled, conference-produced advertisement for the Pac-12 Network.

We understand that Mr. Coleman is reluctant to defame the work of his newly inherited officials, but it does not bode well for the conference’s stated goals of accountability, communication, and transparency that he appears to be unaware of the overwhelming number of grievances against the conference’s officiating record and unwilling to discuss the widely recognized shortcomings with assembled media.

With respect to the UCLA vs. Stanford game on Thursday, numerous calls were missed by the officiating crew assigned to the game. We concede that the appearance of discrepancy in how both missed and incorrectly assessed penalties were distributed between the teams is likely coincidental (if consistent year-to-year in this particular match-up). However the sheer volume of poorly officiated plays affected the play of the game (if not its outcome) and, in one particularly egregious error, resulted in the unmerited ejection and suspension of UCLA wide receiver Kenneth Walker III.

The rule in question on that particular play is as follows:

"Targeting and Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 9-1-3)No player shall target and initiate contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. When in question, it is a foul.Targeting and Initiating Contact to Head or Neck Area of a Defenseless Player (Rule 9-1-4)No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, fist, elbow or shoulder. When in question, it is a foul. (Rule 2-27-14)Note: Beginning in 2013, ejection from the game is a part of the penalty for violation of both Rule 9-1-3 and Rule 9-1-4."

Mr. Walker executed a block on a kickoff return with his shoulder to the sternum of Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez, who showed no concussion symptoms and returned to the game soon after. The call of targeting was reviewed and confirmed, despite the near-consensus among observers and commentators (including ESPN rules expert Dave Cutaia) that Mr. Walker was not in violation of the rule as written.

Lastly, ‘When in question, it is a foul,’ is a clause ripe for abuse and misapplication and furthers the conference officials’ national reputation as overly punitive.

2. Stop scheduling weeknight conference football games.

Seven to nine of the twelve teams in the Pac-12 Conference, depending on how you rate Tucson and Salt Lake City, are in major metropolitan areas. It is simply not feasible to schedule games on weeknights during commute hours and expect them to be well-attended. USC‘s home game against Washington last week and Stanford’s home game against UCLA this week were marked by sparse attendance and lack of the atmosphere unique to college football. The same will undoubtedly be true for next week’s UCLA home game against California.

Additionally, moving kickoff back to 7:00 pm or 7:30 pm, while insufficient to address the attendance, further makes the games inaccessible to most television viewers across the nation, as a 9:00/9:30 Central or 10:00/10:30 Eastern kickoff will be missed by the vast majority of the viewing public. If the goal is to separate marquee games and air them without competition from other games so the national audience can see and appreciate Pac-12 football, this strategy is an abject failure. Two of the biggest target markets in the nation for college football, New York and Atlanta, were otherwise drawn to sports counter-programming in the New York Mets playoff baseball game and the Atlanta Falcons Thursday Night Football NFL game.

Stanford wide receiver Francis Owusu catches a touchdown against UCLA safety Jaleel Wadood. Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA, October 15, 2015. Credit: ESPN via SB Nation.

The signature moment from Thursday night’s game, Cardinal receiver Francis Owusu‘s spectacular touchdown catch against Bruin safety Jaleel Wadood, occurred after midnight eastern time. What would have been a play shown in-game and during highlight shows on every network all day Saturday was instead seen by a much smaller audience and will be old news by the time the majority of college football fans are engaged on Saturday. Given Stanford’s penchant for spectacular catches against UCLA (see below), this was predictable and avoidable.

Stanford wide receiver Kodi Whitfield makes a touchdown catch against UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams and safety Anthony Jefferson. Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA, October 19, 2013. Credit ESPN via For the Win.

3. Stop scheduling UCLA and Stanford every year.

We appreciate that when the conference split divisions in 2011 the California schools were split up so as to allow equal access to the state’s bountiful recruiting grounds. We also appreciate the subsequent decision to guarantee cross-divisional games between Stanford and California, in the North Division, and UCLA and USC, in the South Division.

However, we are compelled to request that you cease the annual meeting between Stanford and UCLA. The evidence is ample and incontrovertible that this pairing is a competitive mismatch. It is simply unfair to the North Division’s five other teams that Stanford is guaranteed a win every year. Likewise, it is unfair to the UCLA Bruins that their schedule contains a preordained loss every season.

Whether you choose to keep an annual pairing of USC/Stanford and UCLA/California, give each conference team one permanent cross-division rival, or simply allow for the open rotation of all inter-division games, fair play and human decency require to you terminate this game as an annual series.

As a last resort, we will remind you that the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids chattel slavery, and the continuance of this series makes the conference complicit in Stanford head coach David Shaw‘s sustained, wanton, and unlawful ownership of UCLA head coach Jim Mora.

With due respect and continued appreciation for your work as commissioner of this conference,

Go Joe Bruin

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