It was an unforgettable spectacle. It was an unjustifiable blunder.
The University of Miami faced a three-point deficit with six seconds remaining against Duke on Saturday night. The Hurricanes fielded a kickoff near the 30-yard line but retreated inside the five after shuffling the ball through seven laterals.
The final exchange returned the ball to the original recipient, Corn Elder. With no time remaining, Elder darted 91 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The daring improvisation prompted outbursts of shock and disbelief from nearly everyone watching. On the sidelines. In the stands. At local bars. In living rooms.
And certainly at the Atlantic Coast Conference office.
After reviewing the play, the league determined the on-field officiating crew botched several calls during the frenzied scramble. The league announced Sunday that the crew, including referee Jerry Magallanes and replay official Andrew Panucci, have been suspended for two games.
The ACC acknowledged the error, but that does not correct it. The league should amend its bylaws and restore the victory Duke earned.
Even if it will invalidate one of the most entertaining plays in the history of college football.
Miami’s Mark Walton was tackled as he attempted the fourth lateral. His knee hit the grass before he released the football. He should have been ruled down, and the game should have ended there.
Officials missed that detail on the field and somehow through replay review, despite clear shots of Walton’s knee touching the turf with the ball still in his palm.
Additionally, the crew missed two penalties that would have negated the touchdown. An official initially threw a flag for an illegal block in the back. During the replay review, the officials conferred and ruled that the penalty should be canceled. The league did not refute that decision.
However, Magallanes did not explain it clearly after the review. His vague announcement induced spectators to assume the crew reviewed the penalty through replay, which is prohibited.
A suspension will not restore the perfect league record Duke lost on that play. A suspension will not will not vault the Blue Devils back into the Top 25. A suspension is not consolation.
Duke was robbed, and the league essentially told them, “We caught the robbers. They will spend the night in jail, but we couldn’t recover anything they stole.”
Considering that the errors occurred on the final play of the game, and the game would have ended, the ACC could reverse this call easily. It would not to trigger some legislative landslide. This would be a simple precedent with distinct qualifiers.
End of the game. Irrefutable evidence. Indisputable result.
Reversing the call would fix more than hurt feelings.
Duke entered that game ranked No. 18 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press poll. Rival North Carolina defeated Pittsburgh last week and moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season, at No. 21 in both polls. If Duke had defeated Miami, the ACC would enjoy two Top 25 matchups this week, along with Clemson-Florida State.
Instead, the ACC now has the fewest Top 20 teams of the Power 5 leagues. The American Athletic Conference has more.
The loss pushed Duke a game behind North Carolina in the race for the Coastal Division title. Dropping in the ACC standings will also drop Duke in the bowl pool. The ACC shares bowl revenue, so Duke would not feel the financial hit from that drop. However, the further away from New Year’s Day Duke slides, the less enticing the bowl trip and the less exposure for the program.
Perhaps, Duke deserved to lose that game after its pitiful coverage, even after the illegal lateral. Everyone watching knew Miami would resort to the hot-potato, Princeton offense to advance that ball. If any program could devise the proper man-to-man defense to stop it, surely it should have been Duke.
Countless teams have attempted that desperate improv. Few advance the ball past the 15-yard line. Yet, regardless of how exciting Elder’s culminating dash was, it should not have been allowed to happen. It should not have counted then. It should not stand now.
Just imagine if this happened in the semifinal round of the ACC Basketball Tournament.