The Interception That Wasn't: A Look At The NCAA Rule That Impacted Bedlam
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - It's irresponsible to boil a college football game down to one play.
It happens time and time again and seldom provides enough actual information of what led to that play mattering in the first place or what transpired afterward.
But for the sake of argument, there is one play from Bedlam 2013 that will be discussed for quite some time.
With the Cowboys leading 24-20 and the clock winding down, OU's Blake Bell lobbed a ball down field that was short and on the inside shoulder of Sooner receiver Lacoltan Bester. Oklahoma State's All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert leapt into the air and came down with an apparent interception that would have put the icing on the cake for a Cowboy victory and punched OSU's ticket to Phoenix.
But two officials instantly ran into the picture and waved off the would-be pick after the ball escaped Gilbert's grasp after his second bounce on his back.
Two plays later Bell connected with Jalen Saunders for the game-winning scoring strike in what would eventually be a 33-24 Sooner victory.
The boos rained down accompanied by a handful of snowballs after the officials negated the interception. If that play by Gilbert stands as a pick, OSU wins. It didn't and Oklahoma won Bedlam for the 10th time in 11 tries to eliminate the Pokes from the Big 12 title conversation.
While one play does not a game make, it begs to be looked into for clarification purposes.
There were plenty of bad calls in this game that led to difference-making plays for both teams but this wasn't one of them, at least according to the rule book.
The reason it wasn't a bad call is because it adhered to the NCAA guidelines. Not staying inside the rule book is what technically signals a bad or "missed" call.
While it wasn't a bad call, it might very well be a bad rule.
Let's dive in:
In the 2013 NCAA Rule book, the organization offered clarification in Section E, Article 3, which discusses editorial changes, to what it considers to be an interception and recovery.
The following won't be fun to read if you bleed orange.
"a. To catch a ball means that a player:
1. secures control of a live ball in flight with his hands or arms before the ball touches the ground, and
2. touches the ground in bounds with any part of his body, and then
3. maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game, i.e., long enough to pitch or hand the ball, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent, etc., and
4. satisfies paragraphs b,c, and d below.
b. if a player goes to the ground in the act of catching (with or without contact by an opponent) he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or in the end zone … if he loses control of the ball which then touches the ground before he regains control, it is not a catch."
c. If the player loses control of the ball while simultaneously touching the ground with any part of his body, or if there is doubt that the acts were simultaneous, it is not a catch. If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession; he must lose control of the ball in order for there to be a loss of possession."
Later on the rule book announces the inevitable: "When in question the catch, recovery or interception is not completed."
There are several parts of that article that present condemning evidence to Oklahoma State's case and the knowledge of said rules was likely the leading factor in coach Mike Gundy's decision not to challenge the play to begin with for fear of forfeiting a costly timeout.
While Gilbert clearly controlled the ball with both hands and landed with possession on top of the OU receiver and then rolled off with his knee hitting prior to the ball coming out, it still doesn't count as a catch because of several conflictions with the rules.
Common sense and the naked eye say it's an interception.
By all rights, maybe it should have been, but Gilbert did not maintain control long enough to perform the always ambiguous "perform an act common to the game" criterion, often referred to as the "football move" rule.
This is also the same rule that caused OU tight end Brannon Green's potential score in the back of the endzone to be waved off, so it certainly went both ways.
Also, Gilbert did not maintain "complete and continuous control" through the process of contacting the turf. He also didn't have "control of the ball while simultaneously touching the ground," or so it was interpreted.
While that seems logical, it's often proven otherwise in the field of play, as evidenced by the length of time Gilbert clearly had control, including the time he was fully lateral on top of Bester but was not down by rule.
Gundy made the case most dressed in orange did after the game: "On Gilbert's interception, I thought he caught the ball. He came down, and he had it. I thought after he was on the ground that it rolled out."
And Gundy is right. That is how it appeared.
But there is a lot of college football jargon on paper that overrules what common sense says transpired on the field in live action.
The written word in a seldom-read document doesn't seem important or impactful until it is. Sometimes it means the difference between wins and losses. Sometimes it takes a team out of championship contention.
The NCAA says when the result of the play is in question, it does not stand. Maybe that same logic should apply to the rule book.
That said, the importance of the rule book on one play doesn't fully encapsulate what transpired over the course of a few hours in arctic conditions. There was much more to this loss for the Cowboys than that play.
OSU allowed a punt return touchdown, a fake field goal touchdown, committed seven penalties, failed on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and allowed a game-winning drive that took just a minute and 27 seconds while holding a lead at home. The list goes on.
That one play didn't lose this game for Oklahoma State.
All of the reasons above had a lot more to do with it.
But that play will be magnified in the hours, days and weeks to come. Many will call it "Sooner Magic;" many will say it's a "Poke Choke;" it's probably just the correct interpretation of a questionable rule.
But it never should have come down that for the heavily-favored Cowboys.
Like we said, it's irresponsible to boil a game down to one play, but sometimes they make a world of difference.