Virginia Tech football Twitter/interwebs got particularly salty Thursday evening, after officials in their Belk Bowl game against Arkansas awarded the Razorbacks the football after a muffed punt.
Thing is: the officials were right.
Here’s what happened. Arkansas had the ball 4th and short at its own 19. Arkansas punted. Tech’s return man bobbled the catch, and the ball bounced off an Arkansas player. The Arkansas player appeared to fall on it. When he did, the ref closest to the ball blew the play dead.
Except it wasn’t. The ball spurted out from under the Razorback, right into the waiting arms of a Virginia Tech player.
Things got weirder. There had been a holding penalty on Virginia Tech during the kick, and the refs initially indicated it was first-down, Tech, after assessing the ten-yard penalty.
Then all hell broke loose.
Bret Bielema complained endlessly, and the officials changed the call to an inadvertent whistle with Arkansas in possession (which everyone watching replay could tell was not what happened: the ball had been loose when the whistle blew). Arkansas ball.
After going to review, the official said there had been an inadvertent whistle, and a penalty during the kick. “By rule,” he said, the penalty was assessed from the spot of the kick and it was still Arkansas’ ball.
He was right.
Rule 4 governs live- and dead-ball situations. We’re interested in Article 2(b)(3), and Article 2(c).
There was an inadvertent whistle during the down. It was during “a free or scrimmage kick.” (Punts are scrimmage kicks.) BY RULE, “the ball is returned to the previous spot and the down [is] repeated.”
Now we go to Art. 2(c). A “foul or violation occur[red] during” an “above down.” The ball is returned to the previous spot, and the ten-yard penalty is “administered as in any other play.”
Arkansas ball at its 29. First down Hogs.
And—somehow—the official rule interpretations actually contemplate this exact scenario.
Team A here is (serendipitously) Arkansas. Team B is Tech. Arkansas kicks, Tech commits penalty during kick, then Tech muffs kick. While the ball is loose, inadvertent whistle is sounded. Arkansas ball.