Cooper DeJean Invalid Fair Catch was Correct Call But Kirk Ferentz is Crying Anyway

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody was surprised when Iowa Hawkeyes’ swiss army knife, Cooper DeJean, returned a late 4th quarter punt for touchdown vs the Minnesota Gophers in what looked like yet another classic way for PJ Fleck to lose to Kirk Ferentz, especially given the game was at Kinnick Stadium.

On the contrary, everyone watching was left shocked when the return was called back, not because DeJean stepped out of bounds, which is what we all thought was the reason for the elongated replay session between officials. Instead, it was ruled at he signaled for a fair catch, thus ruling the ball dead as soon as he touched it.

After a Gopher interception ended the game at 12-10 a few plays later, and Minnesota took Floyd of Rosedale from Kinnick for the first time since 1999, the postgame conversation turned to DeJean’s nullified punt return.

Related: Fleck Finally Beats Ferentz the Hawkeye Way – 3 Takeaways from Minnesota vs Iowa

Cooper DeJean invalid fair catch?

After review, there’s really no doubt DeJean waved his left arm and pointed at the football, prior to catching it. The pointing didn’t signal anything to referees.

The waving, however, signaled an “invalid fair catch”, which means the ball is dead when he touched it. The head official gave his explanation to a pool reporter, following the final whistle. The rule, itself, is pretty clear as well.

“If you look at the video you’ll see that. That waving motion of the left hand constitutes an invalid fair catch signal. So when the receiving team recovers the ball, by rule it becomes dead.”

“That is a reviewable element of the game. We let the play run out and then when we went to review, review shows with indisputable evidence that there is a waving motion with the left hand. And that is when these rules are applied.”

Big Ten Referee – Tim O’Dey (via Pioneer Press)


ARTICLE 1(c): A valid or invalid fair catch signal deprives the receiving team of the opportunity to advance the ball. The ball is declared dead at the spot of the catch or recovery or at the spot of the signal if the catch precedes the signal.

Valid Signal


A valid signal is a signal given by a player of Team B who has obviously signaled his intention by extending one hand only clearly above his head and waving that hand from side to side of his body more than once.

Invalid Signal


An invalid signal is any waving signal by a player of Team B:

  1. That does not meet the requirements of Article 2 (above); or
  2. That is given after a scrimmage kick is caught beyond the neutral zone, strikes the ground or touches another player beyond the neutral zone (A.R. 6-5-3-III-V); or
  3. That is given after a free kick is caught, strikes the ground or touches another player. [Exception: Rule 6-4-1-f]

So, while shocking and obviously disappointing for Iowa fans, coaches and players… the ruling was correct and, after explanation, pretty easy to understand.

Kirk Ferentz cries foul on called back punt return

But don’t tell that to Iowa head coach, Kirk Ferentz, who couldn’t talk about anything after the game without going back to the referees and that final ruling that DeJean called for an invalid fair catch. It was like someone had been lying to him about the sky being blue his entire life, even inviting the NCAA to fine him for bad-mouthing officials.

“Most people, when they run, their arms do wave,” Ferentz said. “So if you looked at the video, it looked like he was naturally running to the football and then just made a great play. One of the best ones I’ve ever seen.” Ferentz mentioned multiple times that the coaching staff goes over fair catch procedure “with the officials each and every time” before the game.

“Above the head, wave,” Ferentz said. “And we also cover point to the ground for an errant kick, which there were several of those today.” He maybe “slept through the meeting” where the conference explained where the replay decisions get made. The Big Ten has a replay review center in Pittsburgh to assist with the process.

“I’m still not sure who makes the final decision,” Ferentz said. “I know we go to Pittsburgh for analysis. And my theory there is the more people get involved, probably the more screwed up things are.”

John Steppe – Iowa Gazette
cooper dejean invalid fair catch iowa hawkeyes minnesota gophers kirk ferentz
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Ferentz is one of two things…

There may not be a better taste than Iowa Hawkeye tears, after a loss the the Minnesota Gophers that puts their hopes and dreams of another Big Ten West title in danger.

Related: 2023-24 Minnesota Gophers Football Schedule

It’s ok to be upset but all Ferentz’ postgame press conference did was prove he is either (a) blind or (b) a sore loser. He’s 68 years old so I’m not ruling out either possibility.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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