Is there bias against Penn State among referees?
Nittany Lion quarterback Matt McGloin said as much following PSU's 32-23 loss at Nebraska last weekend, a game that saw momentum swing on a fourth-quarter turnover. Lion tight end Matt Lehman fumbled into the end zone, and the Cornhuskers recovered.
Though video replay appeared to show Lehman in control of the football as he crossed the goal line -- which would have been a touchdown -- the Big Ten replay official upheld the original call. Nebraska took over possession and went on to win.
“We're not going to get that call here,” McGloin said after the game. “We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. We'll never get that call.”
Asked to explain what he meant, McGloin said, “Why do you think it is? It's just the way it is, man. … Write what you think.”
Later, he added, "It's us against the world and we're not going to get those calls in these types of games."
McGloin's comments only served to further rile up Penn State fans, many of whom believe the program was treated unfairly by the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Though none of the current coaches or players had anything to do with the scandal, in July the Nittany Lions were slapped with harsh penalties that included a four-year postseason ban and a significant reduction in scholarships.
A defensive mentality has surfaced among many fans, and has been especially evident during certain games this year. In an Oct. 27 home loss to Ohio State, momentum changed on a rare defensive holding penalty against a Penn State lineman on a Buckeye punt. Television replays showed it to be a questionable call. On Internet message boards, fans ranted that Big Ten officials were out to get Penn State.
It was more of the same on fan forums following the Lehman call in Lincoln.
At his Tuesday press conference previewing this week's home game with Indiana, first-year Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien felt the need to address the conspiracy theories.
“I would tell our fans no one is against Penn State,” he said. “No one is against Penn State."
So what did McGloin have to say given time to reflect? As of Thursday, nothing. For the first time this season, the senior was not made available to the media during a game week.
O'Brien tried to paint that as coincidental.
“I choose what players talk to the media each week, and I just chose for him not to be on that list,” the coach said.
Publicly, at least, O'Brien didn't seem to be bothered by McGloin's postgame comments.
“At the end of the day, it's a free country and Matt can say what he wants,” O'Brien said. “That's what he did. He's an emotional kid.”
Center Matt Stankiewitch agreed.
“Matt's a very emotional player,” Stankiewitch said. “I respect his enthusiasm for the team and the emotion. But I feel like all the refs did the best they could to call the most even and fair game they could.”
“It's not my job to grade (the officials),” linebacker Michael Mauti added. “We've got to just do our best to not make it that close of a call. It's on us at the end of the day.”
Penn State is 6-4 on the season and 4-2 in the Big Ten. For the record, the Lions rank eighth in the Big Ten in terms of fewest penalties, with 37 for 339 yards in six conference games. Their opponents have been flagged 36 times for 357 yards in league action.