By Mark F. Gray
The reason fans and broadcast journalists like me get into this business is to document the human drama of athletic competition. Last Saturday at Morgan State it was my honor and privilege to broadcast arguably the greatest single performance in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football history as Florida A&M quarterback Curtis Pulley accounted for 405 yards of total offense and the Rattlers beat the Bears 31-28 in an overtime epoch.
Pulley’s performance was the stuff of legend and should secure him as the Walter Payton award winner as the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). However, the controversy surrounding the contest has left a cloud over the game, the officials, and the conference. It was another embarrassing officiating fiasco that continues to erode the credibility of Black College football.
In the interest of full disclosure I have been broadcasting Morgan State football games this season and its great to be back in the booth after being in a Major League Baseball studio for several years. I’m sure there are those who will feel that this is just sour grapes because my team and alma mater lost.
So be it!!
This outcome was decided in the extra period where Morgan faced fourth down and one at the FAMU 16 yard line. Bears quarterback Carlton Jackson dove forward for to the 15 for an apparent first down given that all overtime drives begin at the 25. According to reports from the sidelines, the chains justified a questionable spot at best because they hadn’t been adjusted to the 10 yard length prior to the measurement which caused the play to be ruled short. Thus, Morgan’s championship hopes were all but mathematically eliminated and unnecessary doubts have been created about the contest.
Other reports from both sidelines began surfacing midway during the fourth quarter about the game’s referee – Chuck Williams – smelling of alcohol. From my vantage point in the booth I can’t confirm that, however, when players, coaches, and photographers who were on the field speak en masse there must be something to it. MEAC Supervisor of Officials Danny Evans was summoned to the field and was seen speaking to Williams who put two pieces of gum in his mouth and proceeded to finish the game.
Throughout the game, however, Williams struggled making calls after penalties over the public address system. Initially I thought that was due to equipment failure but other reporters in the working press box also had difficulty understanding the calls coming from the field as well because of his slurred speech. Even print reporters from Tallahassee and Baltimore openly joked afterwards that they thought Williams was drunk.
With the proliferation of new media coverage game management by officiating crews has become paramount. There is always the element of human error but if it is exacerbated by the alleged use of alcohol by the final arbitrator of all decisions a formal reprimand from the conference is not acceptable.
In watching and covering games around the country its clear that officiating has not kept up with new level of athleticism of today’s athletes in either of the four HBCU conferences. Favoritism continues to keep talented competent officials from getting their chance because of politics and personal relationships with those in positions to hire and it is reflected in embarrassing mistakes that take away from the outcome on the field.
The MEAC has to thoroughly investigate this matter and make its findings public. Don’t blame the players, coaches or media for the controversy surrounding this game. If players are subjected to random drug testing, does this now mean officials have to pass a field sobriety test.
Blame it on the alcohol thanks to Breathalyzer Bowl I.