The supervisor of officials for the Big Eight Conference admitted yesterday that Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer was correct in contending officials made a mistake on a call that cost the third-ranked Sooners a victory over previously No. 1 Texas Saturday.
Meanwhile, Texas Coach Fred Akers said yesterday that officials had missed a pass interference call on the same play away from the ball.
"We regrettably were wrong, and it was an official's error; we feel real bad about it," said Bruce Finlayson, the Big Eight supervisor of officials. He apologized to Switzer on the telephone yesterday for an end zone call on the next-to-last play of the game that allowed Texas to kick a last-second, 32-yard field goal and escape with a 15-15 tie.
The call that caused Switzer and Oklahoma to see red -- and probably cost the Sooners the No. 1 ranking this week -- came when a Texas pass was intercepted in the end zone by safety Keith Stanberry. Officials ruled Stanberry did not have possession of the ball when he fell out of bounds. Texas retained possession, then tied the score on a field goal.
"It's the most controversial call I've ever been involved in," Switzer said of the ruling, which television replays showed to be clearly wrong. "Obviously, with us playing for the No. 1 position in the polls, it's the biggest call that's ever gone against us."
Akers, speaking of the same play, disagreed. "Without question, there was pass interference, but not on who you're thinking about," Akers said. "They interfered with our intended receiver, who was (tight end) William Harris."
Akers said the interference call could have "gone either way" on the pass to Texas receiver Bill Boy Bryant, but he was adamant that Harris was illegally bumped while trying to run a pass route.
"No one saw that," he said. "It (hit) turned him sideways and he finally fell. They (Oklahoma) might need to look at the play a little sooner before it ever got out there (in the end zone)."
Akers said if the call had been made, top-ranked Texas would have had a first down at the Oklahoma two. But the Longhorns settled for a a tying 32-yard field goal as time expired. Asked whether he would have still gone for a tie from the two, Akers said, "I'm not going to play what-ifs with you."
The end zone ruling was just one of three controversial calls against Oklahoma in the final Texas drive. Earlier, when Texas' Jerome Johnson fumbled at midfield after a pass reception, it was ruled that he was already down. On another play, Stanberry was called for pass interference that gave Texas a first down at the Oklahoma 41.
"You let 'em take it away from us," said Switzer to Big Eight referee Ed Clark, who was one of two officials in the end zone when Stanberry intercepted the ball. Dale K. Schreurs of the Southwest Conference was the linesman who made the end zone call that prompted Switzer to contend his team had been robbed.
"There's a Big Eight official (Clark) standing there, watching him catch the ball," Switzer told the Oklahoman newspaper. "He's looking at the Southwest Conference guy signal him out of bounds and he won't fight for us." Oklahoma is in the Big Eight Conference and Texas plays in the Southwest Conference.
Yesterday, Carl James, commissioner of the Big Eight Conference, said there were extenuating circumstances explaining the officials' error. Because Stanberry had his back to both end zone officials when he made the interception, they could not be certain he had control of the ball. In that situation, James said, the Big Eight has an iron-clad rule that the official must be 100 percent certain the receiver has possession or it is incomplete.
"Obviously today, looking back on it, you get the feeling that that play was missed," James said. "We're very disappointed that officiating had anything to do with a game as important as this. The fumble and the interference leaves you with a sinking feeling, regardless of where you are."
On his weekly television show after the game, Switzer said he would "blackball" Big Eight official Clark from working any more Oklahoma games this season. Yesterday, speaking from his office at the University of Oklahoma, Switzer sounded more subdued, but just as determined.
"I think after what happened it's just best for him and our fans, coaching staff and players, that he probably not call a game for us again this season.
"It's unfortunate for us and unfortunate for the Big Eight Conference official," said Switzer of Clark, a furniture store owner from Missouri who would not comment on the game. "Obviously, he wanted to make the right decision. But it wasn't the right decision . . . He's probably as sick about it as I am. But it kept us from having the victory."