Look, I don’t have anything against the refs in general. I would be hard-pressed to point out a single loss from my years of playing or watching football that I can attribute directly to the call of any referee (though I have witnessed some truly awful ones). Any rational fan, if willing to ignore the immediate urges of hyper-emotion and turn away from blind team loyalty, can usually admit that if his team had only taken care of business the way it should have throughout the game the end result could, should and probably would have been different. This would explain my thought process and reluctance to pin any loss solely on the actions of the Zebras. However, choosing to not use the refs as an excuse for my team’s shortcomings is completely different than not calling them like I see them and pointing out some of the blatantly obvious issues that the officials in the SEC have had this season. And that is the intent of this post.
As a DAWGS fan, I am extremely sensitive to the thought of the atrocity that was the excessive celebration penalties (yes, both ways) assessed at the end of the LSU game, the hair-trigger attitude that officials in the SEC have taken towards the DAWGS in recent years with regard to personal foul penalties and the fact that it seems the Florida Gators play by a different set of rules than the rest of the league, especially Saint Timothy. With that said, I was still reluctant to write about this topic for fear of being thrown in with those that choose to use any referee’s possibly questionable call against their team as THE deciding factor in the outcome of the game. But, once the excessive celebration call in the LSU game blew up into a national talking point, I began to think that this issue was fair game for this forum. (If you need a nuts and bolts re-counting of the incident you can find it HERE.) Then, seeing what has continually happened in games officiated by SEC crews under the supervision of Southeastern Conference coordinator of officials Rogers Redding since that game has only strengthened that view point.
The events of this past weekend only serve to further focus the spotlight on the issues with football officiating in the Southeastern Conference. I witnessed Rontavious Wooten get called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for forcefully slinging the ball to the ground at no one in particular after a big play, while a Vanderbilt player was not flagged after sacking Joe Cox and then hurling Cox’s towel high into the air in celebration. You can say that Wooten’s play was not advisable and was a coachable moment to be sure, but to equate it to the Vanderbilt player’s actions seems a bit ridiculous.
Meanwhile, in the Arkansas/Florida game in the Swamp in Gainesville, Saint Timothy and the Gators could seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of the officials while the Razorbacks were repeatedly flagged at crucial moments in the game for plays that would be iffy at best in their justification. I saw Saint Timothy spike the ball right at an opponents head, gesture at him and then turn and gesture to the bench without so much as a second look from the officiating crew. Fast forward to Florida’s game-tying touchdown drive and Arkansas is called for pass interference that was questionable at best and a down right AWFUL personal foul call that directly preceded the game-tying touchdown. You can check out the carnage more in depth HERE and HERE and HERE. As I posted on HALE’S blog the other day, “Call it how you see zebras, but for goodness sake, call it the same way regardless of which TEAM a player is on or what his name and number happen to be.”
I have just one final point. Apparently, we members of the Bulldog Nation are not the only ones taking notice of the tendencies of the officiating crews in the league this year as evidenced by the actions of the Florida players and coaches at the end of the game on Saturday. Regardless of the circumstances that may have assisted the Gators in putting themselves in position for the victory, they all acted as if they were taking no chances with the SEC’s “Russian Roulette” style of officiating either. In the immediate seconds following the go-ahead field goal by Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis, he can be seen wearing a stone faced expression and urging his teammates to not react to what had just occurred. Likewise the Florida coaching staff followed his lead by frantically wrangling the Gator players off the field of play and attempting to mute the team’s celebration so as to not draw an “LSU type” flag of their own. Look, even if this did take place in the scenario of something good happening for Florida, it is still absolutely ABSURD that any player, coach or team should have to attempt to squash the emotion of what should be an exhilarating moment in team sport out of fear of an unwarranted penalty that may drastically impact the outcome of the game.
Bad calls happen in football games all over the country, every weekend. Think back to last year when Washington quarterback Jake Locker was flagged for a celebration penalty in the end zone for tossing the ball too high in the air. Penalties are a part of the game, but things just seem to be trending in a dangerous direction in the SEC and unfortunately it doesn’t look like they will be straightened out at any point in the near future “…and that’s the bottom line! Cause Rogers Redding said so!”