Jim Fassel has seen his share of bad calls in 36 years of coaching football.
But the Locomotives coach said he would be hard-pressed to recall one that was more egregious than the illegal defense penalty assessed to Las Vegas in the second quarter of its 27-20 loss to the Florida Tuskers on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium in both teams’ United Football League season opener.
With 9:06 left in the quarter, Tuskers running back Dominic Rhodes was stripped of the ball at the Locos 1-yard line. Las Vegas recovered the fumble to thwart a go-ahead score.
But the play was reviewed. The official in the replay booth ruled Las Vegas had recovered the fumble but was guilty of an illegal blitz. UFL rules stipulate that no more than six defensive players can attack the line of scrimmage on pass plays.
Even though they were attempting to stop a running play, not a pass, the Locos were flagged and Florida retained possession at the Las Vegas 2. Rhodes scored on the next play to put the Tuskers up 14-10.
"I’ve had my struggles with officials and disagreements over judgment calls," Fassel said. "But the guy in the replay booth damn well ought to know that rule. And the guys on the field should damn well know the rule."
Larry Upson, the UFL’s vice president of officiating operations, said replay booth official Carl Taganelli made a mistake.
"He misinterpreted the rule," Upson said. "What happened was Las Vegas had eight or nine guys with a hand on the ground instead of the four they’re allowed to have. But this rule only applies on pass plays, and this was clearly not a pass play."
The illegal blitz rule is one of several differences between the UFL and the NFL. Upson said this particular rule is in place to protect the quarterback and offensive linemen, two valuable commodities in a five-team league with 52-player rosters and no practice squads.
"The rules are there to make the game more exciting for our fans and also provide safety for our players," Upson said. "The quarterbacks are our franchise. We have to protect them. Same with the linemen. We can’t have them getting overrun by all-out blitzes."
Upson said other UFL rule changes — such as the "No Tuck" rule, the overtime procedure in which both teams get at least one possession, allowing quarterbacks to intentionally ground the ball without leaving the pocket, and returning fumbles out of the end zone to the original spot of the fumble instead of awarding a touchback — don’t diminish the quality of play. "There are a few subtle changes," he said. "Otherwise, we play straight football."
Upson said he visited each team before the season and explained all the rules and the differences between the UFL and the NFL.
Fassel obviously was paying attention because he knew the illegal blitz rule.
He launched a profanity-laced tirade at referee John Bible and his crew, all of which was captured live on HDNet’s television broadcast.
Fassel was not fined by the UFL for his criticism of the officials, and Upson apologized for the error.
"They’re human, just like the coaches and players," Upson said of his officials. "It was an unfortunate circumstance. But we’re striving for perfection from our officials."
Upson said the replay procedure, in which all reviews come from the booth, will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
"We’re happy with our review process the way it currently is," he said. "We have no plans to change it."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.UFL VS. NFL
Although most of the UFL rule book is identical to the NFL’s, there are several key differences as outlined below:
• UFL — Fumble if ball comes loose as quarterback’s arm begins moving forward
• NFL — Incomplete pass if ball hits ground
• UFL — Maximum of six defenders can attack across line of scrimmage
• NFL — No limit to number of defenders who can cross line of scrimmage
• UFL — Quarterback can remain inside tackles provided ball is thrown back to line of scrimmage
• NFL — Quarterback must be outside tackles when trying to get rid of ball
FUMBLE OUT OF END ZONE
• UFL — Ball placed at spot of fumble where team last had possession
• NFL — Ball is spotted at 20-yard line
• UFL — Each team is given at least one possession regardless if team with ball scores first
• NFL — Team that wins coin toss gets possession; game over when first team scores
• UFL — All reviews handled upstairs by replay official
• NFL — Referee reviews on field