The American Athletic Conference confirmed Tuesday it supported replay booth official Paul Zukis’ controversial decision not to overturn the call that left Tulane without a touchdown on the final play at SMU on Saturday.
Quarterback Jonathan Banks was ruled just short of the goal line as he tried to run for a score on first-and-goal from the 1 in the final 10 seconds. The clock ran out before the Green Wave (5-7) had a chance to snap the ball again, handing SMU a 41-38 victory and depriving the Wave of a bowl game.
Although the league did not issue an official statement, communications director Chuck Sullivan emphasized that the burden of finding indisputable evidence to reverse the call and the tendency to defer to the decision of an official on the goal line looking right at the play.
Enhancing the debate, SMU’s video department released a camera shot broadcaster CBS Sports did not have. Taken from the opposite end zone, the video shows Banks’ forearm landing short of the goal line as he was tackled by linebacker Kyran Mitchell. Whether any part of the ball reached the goal line is open to interpretation.
Regardless, that angle was not available to Zukis, who upheld the call on the field less than three minutes after Banks was tackled.
While the review was ongoing, CBS Sports color commentator Corey Chavous, watching the replays provided by the network, was convinced the call would be reversed.
“That was a touchdown,” he said. “That’s a touchdown. If they review it upstairs, that’s a touchdown. It is a touchdown. And that’s a bowl game for Willie Fritz and his Tulane Green Wave.”
Two minutes later, Zukis ruled the other way.
Although CBS Sports did not have a goal-line shot from the side of the field where the ball was clearly visible, Sullivan said the network had its usual full allotment of cameras.
Tulane’s loss will leave the AAC one team shy of fulfilling its seven primary bowl tie-ins. The winner of Saturday’s championship game between Central Florida and Memphis is assured a spot in a major bowl that goes to the highest-ranked champion of a Group of Five league. Only six other teams are bowl-eligible.
“It would have been great to have Tulane go to a college bowl game,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of reasons why that would have been a good result.”
Despite coming up short of a bowl, Tulane made noticeable progress in its second year under Fritz, winning three conference games for the first time since joining the AAC in 2014. The Wave beat two bowl teams who have eight victories — Army and Houston — after beating no FBS opponent that finished with a winning record in 2015 and 2016.