Big Ten looks small in not addressing officiating

At a time when the president-elect fuels suspicions about rigged elections and illegal votes, this is no time to let suspicion linger. Yet the Big Ten conference did just that in the wake of the controversial Ohio State-Michigan football game Saturday.

The Big Ten fined Michigan $10,000 on Monday because Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh ripped into the officiating that contributed to Michigan’s 30-27 loss. It was a justifiable action. But with that, the conference said the matter is closed.

Fat chance.

Closed in the mind of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany perhaps, as he buries his head in the sand and refuses to answer some important questions. Starting with:

Why was Dan Capron, the lead official on a crew disciplined by the Big Ten in 2002 after a game between Purdue and Wake Forest, working as the referee during the Ohio State-Michigan game?

It was surprising news for Joe Tiller, the former Purdue football coach who was livid in 2002 after shoddy officiating contributed to his team’s 24-21 loss to Wake Forest. The officials did not work more games that season, but the Big Ten never clarified the extent of the discipline.

“You would like to think that once they were semi-retired by the Big Ten that the Big Ten would say, ‘No, you’re done, period,’ ” Tiller, who coached at Purdue from 1997 to 2008, told USA TODAY Sports. “We had a real mess in that particular game from an officiating point of view.

“My complaint was, ‘You know, everybody involved in the game is held accountable for their performance. The players are, the coaches are, the timekeeper is. But the officials come along and they seem to be untouchables.’ Certainly that was true in the Big Ten at that time.’’

Capron, the referee in question, told USA TODAY Sports on Monday that Big Ten policy prohibits him from speaking to the news media. Tiller said he recalled Capron’s work.

“I remember him as being not a bad official, not a top-rated official,’’ Tiller said.

Another valid question: Why was Kevin Schwarzel, the back judge during the Ohio State-Michigan game, allowed to work the contest even though he resides in Ohio?

In 2006, Schwarzel told the Athens (Ohio) News that he couldn’t work the Ohio State-Michigan game because he’s from Ohio. Bobby Sagers Jr., the side judge, also lives in Ohio.

The Big Ten did not respond to requests for comment. but Tiller said he thinks the conference probably changed its policy because it has struggled to hold onto top officials hired away by the NFL. It’s easier to retain officials if a conference allows them to work games closer to their homes, according to Tiller.

About the only consolation for fans of credible officiating is the crew that worked the Ohio State-Michigan game did not include the Big Ten’s most infamous football official ever — Stephen Pamon, a crew chief fired by the Big Ten in 2008 after a published report detailed Pamon’s history of bankruptcy, casino gambling, child abuse and allegations of sexual harassment.

Recalled Tiller: “At our (Big Ten) coaches meeting, we said, ‘How could this guy get to where he got in the officiating business? What the hell, we can’t get an official better than this guy?’ ”

After that, Tiller said, background checks became part of the Big Ten’s hiring process for officials. He said it’s up to the conference to hold them accountable. But on Monday, someone else escaped accountability.

The Big Ten itself.

USA TODAY Sports


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