According to the rules, was Sam James truly down?

The West Virginia Mountaineers versus Oklahoma State Cowboys game came down to inches and unfortunately it appears that the referees got it right when they upheld their initial decision after review that Freshman wide receiver Sam James was just short of the end zone when he made a fabulous catch across the middle and was tackled as he reached for the endzone.

Most of the time, we’re looking to see if a player’s knee or elbow hits the ground, because that is typically what hits first, but James made a remarkable effort to keep his knees off the turf while carrying a Oklahoma State defender on his back.

The problem here is that James’ ankle touched the turf prior before he could extend the ball across the goal line.  I’ve watched the footage a hundred times since yesterday’s loss and there’s no question that the side of his ankle touched the turf.

According to NCAA rule 4.1.3.b, a player is ruled down “when any part of the ball carrier’s body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground or when the ball carrier is tackled or otherwise falls and loses possession of the ball as he contacts the ground with any part of his body, except his hand or foot.”

The upper ankle, which is what hit the turf when James extended for the endzone, is not considered a part of the foot.  Two failed quarterback keepers by Jarret Doege and a false start by Mike Brown led to a field goal rather than a touchdown in the second quarter and the Mountaineers lost by a score of 20-13.

Following the game, it’s natural for the losing team to look back on what happened or what could have happened differently to change the outcome.

In his postgame press conference, West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown expressed frustration with the call, saying, ““I don’t really understand it.  I thought he was in, I thought the replay showed he was in. Since they called him down, the replay was inconclusive. It was something about they thought his shin was down. I didn’t see it that way. I don’t know. I’ve got to talk to Greg Burks (the Big 12 Coordinator of Officials) and get a clear understanding of that.”

However, it appears that the referees got this one right and Brown will have that confirmed after his talk with Burks and after watching the replay closely on film.  Sam James was down and the Mountaineers came up just short of a big upset that would have kept their bowl eligibility hopes alive.