The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference issued a formal apology to Tuskegee University today, citing the quality of officiating as "distressingly poor," in response to an erroneous, outcome-changing call made during the Nov. 27, 85th Annual Turkey Day Football Classic game against Alabama State University. The game officials disallowed an obvious game-winning touchdown by the Golden Tigers in the final seconds of play.
Dr. Moses Norman, Supervisor of Football Officials for the SIAC, stated the following:
"I have concluded my review of the complaint filed by the administration at Tuskegee University regarding the ruling by the Back Judge in the Turkey Day Football Classic on a play in the end zone near the end of the game. The ruling by the official was that the player was out-of-bounds when he secured possession of the football, thus negating what appeared to be a touchdown. My review included separate conferences with the referee, the field judge, and the back judge, as well as with the neutral site observer at the game. Additionally, I reviewed the still-life photo of the play sent to me and the DVD clip provided by Stacy Danley II, Athletic Director at Tuskegee. My conclusion is that the ruling by the back judge was in error because visual evidence available to me contradicts his explanation regarding the player being out-of-bounds when he secured possession of the football. Thus, the play should have resulted in a touchdown for Tuskegee. Certainly, this was a game-changing ruling by the back judge."
Based on the SIAC recount of the specific event in question, the back judge, Philip Harden, ruled that Tuskegee University player, Jonathan Lessa was out-of-bounds. Vincent Swift, Field Judge, huddled with Harden who reconfirmed that the call should stand as he ruled, which was that the player was out-of-bounds.
Clear visual evidence showed the official ruling of the touchdown catch as out-of-bounds was clearly an incorrect call.
George Mategakis, SIAC Interim Commissioner, expressed his "deep regrets."
"It is simply inexcusable for officials to alter the outcome of a contest by making terribly wrong calls. In no way shape or form do we condone mediocrity from our officials and appropriate and harsh measure have been taken in order to send a stern message to current and future SIAC football officials," Mategakis said.
"While I am extremely appreciative of the results of SIAC's investigation of the officiating of the game, and their apology, it doesn't remove the huge ethical dilemma this game has deposited on our doorsteps," said Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, President of Tuskegee University. "Football is a game where the outcome should be determined by the caliber of the play on the field and nothing else. It is cruelly unfair for game officials to tilt the contest against one of the teams. Such behavior lays the groundwork for an odious corruption to enter college athletics and to nurture moral cynicism among our youth. The strongest possible sanctions need to be used against such conduct."
The SIAC has also responded by suspending, permanently, the services of Philip Harden as an official for any future SIAC football contests, starting with the 2009-2010 season.
"This error not only caused Tuskegee University's football team to suffer its first loss since 2006, but it drops the Golden Tigers in the HBCU rankings and lessens their chances to repeat as National Champions despite their superior winning record."
"Most importantly, it diminishes the celebratory acknowledgement due the young men, our student scholars and athletes, who worked so very hard on and off the gridiron," Payton added.
"We are all proud of the accomplishments of the Golden Tigers during the 2008 football season," Payton said. "Our student athletes demanded nothing short of excellence from themselves in the classroom as well as on the field. It is our hope that the individuals with voting privileges will take this game changing error into consideration when they cast their votes for the 2008 SBN National Championship. Not doing so would diminish the championship and unfairly penalize some truly deserving young men."
Despite the acknowledgement of the bad call and the formal apology, the unearned victory awarded to Alabama State University will stand until or unless the NCAA intervenes.