Dear College Football Fan, You've Been Screwed: The Anatomy of a Fix
There is little to no doubt that Alabama is the best team in the nation in most people's eyes. Or, at the very least, deserve the ranking for now.
The common observer of college football generally watches their own team and keeps up with everyone else via Sportscenter, newspaper, or scoreboards. They watch their team's games and follow their conference closer than they do the rest of the nation.
Perhaps there is no other major sport that is as regionalized as college football. It's so extreme, you can find daily squabbles amongst fans about conference and region superiority almost to the intensity as discussing one's favorite team.
There is no region of which this is more true than the southeast, and in particular, the SEC.
The SEC has long been the dominant conference in college football, and recently cemented that status by inking a multi-billion dollar deal with ESPN for television rights.
Around the nation, fans of other schools and conference have joked about the SEC being dirty for a long time. Sure, there's been evidence here or there to support it, but in reality, it's nothing worse than what occurs in every conference.
However, in 2009; it's more clear than ever that in a world and a sport driven by the almighty dollar, the SEC was willing to sacrifice its competitive purity to win big on a national stage.
Let's rewind to last season: No one could have foreseen the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida. It generated record TV ratings and revenue for the conference and its supporters. It almost made the national title game anti-climactic, in a way.
For the SEC, the BCS title game has been merely a formality. Since the BCS' inception in 1998, the SEC is 5-0 in the championship game and is sending Alabama as a five-point favorite this year.
So having a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in their own game means the SEC gets national attention, all alone, for a second time. The TV ratings back that up, as the 2009 game was the highest rated SECCG since 1993.
Back to 2009, the inaugural season under the ESPN contract and the coincidence that 'Bama and Florida both return a lot of starters. It actually takes very little imagination to conjure up a mental image of a meeting in which SEC Commissioner Mike Slive nudges SEC officials toward what kind of season he wants to see.
Our game of "connect the dots" begins on Oct. 17, 2009. That day, Florida played the Arkansas Razorbacks at home and Alabama hosted South Carolina.
With Florida trailing 20-13, Tim Tebow hit Jeffrey Demps for a measly one-yard gain to the Razorback 20-yard line. However, much to the shock of everyone except Gator fans, an unnecessary roughness penalty was called on Arkansas' Malcolm Sheppard for merely bracing himself to be blindsided by Florida's Maurkice Pouncey.
Florida scored on a 10-yard run the next play to bring the score to a 20-20 tie. The Gators would eventually hit a field goal to win the game 23-20. The final penalty count was 10 for Arkansas for 92 yards, and Florida getting three for 16 yards.
As for Alabama, Oct. 17 stands as the day that Alabama was last called for holding. Yes, you heard that right, the Tide hasn't been flagged for holding despite being a "run first" team in six full games.
Obviously, the old adage of "you can call holding on almost every play" doesn't apply to Alabama. Nick Saban obviously teaches run and pass blocking better than any coach in the history of football.
The next step in our journey comes on Oct. 24, only one week later.
After fighting hard for three full quarters, Mississippi State trailed Florida 22-13 at home. The Bulldogs had held the Gator offense in check pretty well, so it stood to reason that nine points with nine minutes to go wasn't an insurmountable deficit.
MSU QB Tyson Lee threw a pass that was tipped and intercepted by Dustin Doe and returned for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach for the Bulldogs.
The catch is, Doe started celebrating early and was stripped before crossing the goal line. The replay clearly shows the ball coming out before crossing the line, yet the play wasn't overturned nor was Doe flagged for excessive celebration.
Alabama hosted Tennessee on that day for the third Saturday in October rivalry game. Tennessee was flagged eight times for 68 yards, which doesn't include two penalties 'Bama declined, while the Crimson Tide were flagged once for 10 yards, and that was for an illegal block after a first down run.
The conspicuous thing about this disparity is that coming into the game, Tennessee was one of the least penalized teams in the nation, measuring far better than Alabama on the season.
Then, of course, there's the final play of the game where Terrance Cody not only removed his helmet during a live play, but one of the officials blatantly pointed out the loose ball to 'Bama's Rolando McClain so that the Tide could recover and ensure a win.
A couple of weeks later on Nov. 7, Alabama hosted a team that many thought was the last obstacle keeping them from an undefeated season: LSU.
Up 21-15 in the fourth quarter, the Tide faced a 2nd-and-7. QB Greg McElroy threw a pass to his right sideline that was intercepted by LSU's Patrick Peterson. The interception was clear: Peterson not only planted the required one foot down, he toed the line and got two feet in bounds while having control of the ball.
The play was reviewed, and in a crime against humanity, the ruling on the field of an incomplete pass was upheld. This allowed Alabama to continue the drive and kick the game-sealing field goal, winning 24-15.
For the better part of my lifetime, I have defended the SEC against anyone who questioned it. I grew up a fan of Tennessee, but was always taught to support the conference the best I could.
Now, I have had to resign myself to the fact that everyone else is right. The SEC is corrupt and this year's college football season was, at least in part, fixed.
It would be one thing if the overtly bad calls were taking place in every SEC game and there was no bias shown, but that's not the case. Alabama and Florida were clearly the beneficiaries of phantom calls, and sometimes downright cheating.
It's a shame in this day and age, when replay has been instituted to make sure the right thing happens, that it can be completely ignored in order for a conference and a commissioner to get the matchup they desire, purely for money.
The results of the games in the SEC this season didn't rest on the ability of the players and coaches; they rested on what was going to be the most profitable for the SEC and the NCAA.
If you live in other parts of the country, you may not know about all of this mess. You may know parts, but didn't realize the whole story. Hell, you may know everything I've written here today.
Whether you knew it or you didn't, the bottom line is we all got screwed. The national championship game might be between the two best teams; I don't really know.
What I do know is that the SEC Championship game was going to yield a representative in that game as long as both teams were unbeaten, and the SEC did what it took to ensure that would happen.
Yes, it's all water under the bridge. Does it really matter anymore? Probably not.
But I believe everyone has the right to know. You have the right to know when the sport you are watching is fixed.
This isn't supposed to be the WWE; we are led to believe we are watching young men lay it all on the line and the result of the competition is pure in nature. That's part of what makes college athletics so appealing to so many.
I hope someone lifts the curtain soon. What you are watching is a sham, a parade of carefully laid plans that is all driven by one thing: money.
Deal fellow college football fan: Unless you are a Gator or 'Bammer, we have all been screwed in 2009.
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