SEC Football: Are The Officials Protecting The Conference Elite?

aaron keyCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 06:  Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators points with referee Tom Ritter at the first down against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the SEC Championship on December 6, 2008 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a conspiracy theory.

Every fan hates bad officiating.

Combine these two things with a super competitive league, and you've got enough talk radio and message board fodder to fill Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The saying goes, "If it happens once, it's an anomaly. Twice, it's a coincidence. Three times, its a trend."

The anomaly:

Georgia's A.J. Green makes an unbelievable catch with 1:09 left in the game to give the Bulldogs the lead. Green is then swarmed by his teammates in an a rowdy, but supposedly within the rules, celebration. The thing that sticks out to me the most is the amount of time the officials took to first watch the celebration cover 50 yards from one side of the endzone to the other, and then finally decide it's worthy of a flag.

Did they cook something up nice to keep LSU unbeaten to face Florida?

You decide.

The coincidence:

This is the one that seems to have been missed by most onlookers. Including the officials, or was it?

The very next week two undefeated teams battled in Baton Rouge in a made for t.v. movie.

A recently concussed Tebow led a conservative Gator team to a one touchdown victory.

On the touchdown in question, Florida reciever Riley Cooper broke wide open for an easy score. Or did he?

On the replay it becomes obvious how he got so open. No blown coverage here, just one of the most egregious offensive pass interference no calls I have ever seen! Not since the Miami vs. Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl, have I seen officials let recievers mug defensive backs this bad to get open.

With the side judge keying on routes to the outside, how was it that he missed  Cooper fully extending his arm and yanking the LSU defender back as he propelled himself downfield? Top officials in the top conference aren't supposed to miss this.

You decide.

The trend:

For the third week in a row we have the biggest nationally televised game within the conference, and low and behold the trend is set.

Arkansas takes a 20-13 lead with 9:40 to go, courtesy of a 75 yard touchdown from Mallet to Childs. After what seemed like a three hour review, about what is unknown, the officials decided their was no way they could make their presence felt and let the touchdown stand.

They made their presence felt in a big way on the ensueing drive. First, you have what shouldn't be a pass interference penalty, but a coaches clinic piece on how to defend the deep ball, followed directly with a penalty for an Arkansas player defending himself from a hit 30 yards away form the play.

The result? A scant 2:13 and 10 yards later and you've got yourself a tie game.

Later on, with Florida driving for the win after an Arkansas missed field goal, Cooper and the no call strike again.

On a deep pass into the endzone, an Arkansas defender with great position prepares to intercept this errant pass to force overtime. Problem is he gets mauled from behind, with three of the SEC's finest right there to make the call.

Our trend is set, and our elite survive.

Is it the conference's billion dollar television deal? The battle for conference supremacy? Does the SEC need two BCS teams to pad the bottom line?

Here's a little more conspiracy tobacco for your pipe.

The same officiating crew that called the LSU-Georgia game is the same one that called  Florida-Arkansas. After being publicly reprimanded by the conference after the first game, why were they working this one?

The conference office called out the officials again earlier this week, saying they couldn't find an infraction on the play the personal foul was called on, and privately answered Arkansas' questions on the judgement calls such as the pass interference penalty.

AND ON TOP OF THAT, several websites are reporting that the same crew will work the Alabama-Tennessee game this weekend!

What happens if Tennessee keeps it close? The trend says we'll get another apology form the SEC office, and two SEC teams ranked 1-2 in the polls, but at what price?

You decide.

 Note: Shortly after writing this, the SEC has announced a three game suspension for the officiating crew involved in this weekend's game. I guess our collective voice was heard!