SEC Officiating: Crisis or Conspiracy?

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IOctober 26, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 17: SEC referee Marc Curles watches play as the Florida Gators host the Arkansas Razorbacks October 17, 2009 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Say you are SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. Your conference has won each of the past three national championships. You have five teams in the preseason Top 25, four of which are in the top 10. You just signed a $15 billion deal with “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” to carry all of your football and basketball games.  

Most pundits expect your top two teams to be undefeated at season’s end. Heck, it’s in the realm of possibility that the team that loses your conference championship could still wind up in the BCS National Championship Game. After all, you had the first two-loss team to ever win a national title just two years ago.

Your league is on top of the world. The Big XII, Big Ten, ACC and Big East can go play with the ugly kids, because the SEC is the NFL of college football.

But there’s one slight problem. Your officials might be the worst in the history of football.

After experiencing a month of sub-par officiating, the SEC has some real questions to answer.

Who has been the beneficiary of these bad calls for nearly a month? LSU, Florida and Alabama.

Coincidence? Who knows? But the evidence mounting against the SEC and a potential conspiracy is nonetheless intriguing.

The first major screw-job came at the expense of the Georgia Bulldogs. After scoring the go-ahead touchdown with a little more than a minute remaining against the No. 7 LSU Tigers, Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after an illegal celebration that never was.

The ‘Dawgs were forced to kick off from their own 15 and the resulting field position for LSU led to their game-winning touchdown moments later—setting up a No. 1 versus No. 4 primetime, nationally televised, much-hyped game between LSU and Florida.

The following Monday the SEC would admit the official made a terrible call. LSU still got the win and the No. 4 ranking, as well as tons of coverage for their over-hyped matchup with the Gators.

The next one involved Arkansas getting jobbed at the Swamp two weekends ago. It just so happened to involve the same officiating crew that screwed Georgia.

Two phantom, drive-continuing penalties in the final three minutes of the game allowed Florida to pull ahead for only the second time that day.

Two days later the same SEC spin doctors released a public notice that there was in fact no reason to throw a flag in those instances since nothing happened to warrant a penalty.

Two days later that officiating crew was suspended from working games until November.

Nice job of covering your tracks, Mr. Slive.

That whole dog-and-pony show was SEC football’s equivalent of Don Corleone setting up one of his murderous goons as the fall guy.

Of course, Florida received another gracious call this week from the replay official who had plenty of time to get a call right, but erred on the side of screwing the Gators' opponent yet again after a Florida defender fumbled at the one-yard line. The play resulted in a Gator touchdown.

Now we come to the Alabama-Tennessee game. Debate the final play all you want—it was over, it wasn’t over. Cody ripped his helmet off while the ball was still live and should have been penalized or shouldn't have. That’s not that play that Tennessee fans or Coach Lane Kiffin should point to.

It’s the nine penalties committed by the second-least penalized team in the country versus the one penalty committed by the nation's 66th-least penalized team, who also happens to be No. 1, that is inexcusable.

Every time Tennessee got inside the Alabama 30-yard line, there seemed to be an illegal shift, false start or holding penalty. Meanwhile, the Bammers weren’t flagged for a blatant offsides penalty on Tennessee’s first drive of the game when the ‘Bama defender was a yard into the Vol backfield before the ball was snapped.

The stats showed how the Vols offense dominated the Tide defense in the second half, but the penalties almost negated any shot at a score. Sure, Tennessee had a shot to win at the end anyway, but getting closer with 45 seconds remaining was out of the question as Lane Kiffin feared a mysterious yellow hanky would somehow find its way onto the field yet again.

Alabama won the game fair and square, but those penalties, deserved or not, hurt nonetheless.

Of course this time around there was a reprimand instead of a formal apology to Tennessee. After all, Lane Kiffin is a spoiled little brat who would be no where without his infamously smart and football savvy father, Monte. Right, haters?

Its okay for everyone else (Dan Mullen, Bobby Petrino, Bobby Johnson) to whine and moan, but the boy wonder is a snotty nosed little ego-maniac. He should be reprimanded by the big wheels in the SEC office for being nothing more than a prick, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong.

I hate blaming losses on officials more than anyone. It’s a tired excuse that has been used for decades. But when those officials are as blatantly one-sided in favor of the top 10 SEC schools as these last few weeks have shown, questions have to be asked.

What has caused this “crisis” all of a sudden? Is it a crisis at all? The SEC has long been one of the best conferences in the land—in talent, championships and officiating.

Now, with $15 billion and worldwide publicity via ESPN in the picture, its officiating goes down the tubes while its three most visible teams skyrocket to national hype and stardom.

There’s talk of two prominent SEC players vying for the Heisman trophy. There’s speculation that if Alabama and Florida both go undefeated, they could potentially play for a national title even after one loses to the other in the SEC title game in December.

Is there a conspiracy at the highest levels of the conference? Is this the brainchild of Mike Slive and SEC Director of Officials Rodgers Redding? Is the SEC so desperate for national supremacy that it would stoop so low as to slant games toward it’s top teams in hopes of more national coverage and hype?

Has the conference once known for cheating at its most famous institutions now shifted to allow corruption in the front office?

I’m willing to forgive one incident, maybe even two. But once Florida received their second referee-wrapped touchdown and Alabama received one penalty to Tennessee’s nine in the same weekend, I’m crying foul.


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