"You can criticize our calls. You can criticize our judgment. You can even criticize our intelligence.....but you cannot criticize our integrity." - SEC Coordinator of Officials, Rogers Redding.
Well Roger, I do question the integrity of your officials. And by the way, don't ever tell the rest of the country what we can't do in light of the shady shit going on below the Mason-Dixon Line when it comes to college football.
I know that SEC football fans don't want to hear thoughts on their conference from an acknowledged Big Ten guy, but how many Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee fans felt slighted after their teams lost games to SEC front-runners jockeying for BCS positioning due to questionable/blown calls by conference referees?
One of the first things I noticed in terms of the socio-political climate upon moving down south was the corruption in local government, and in particular, county elections. At first I wondered why somebody would risk committing a crime in rigging an election simply to run a small community government in return for a salary that really wasn't worth the risk that was involved. Then somebody explained to me that the reward was not the salary of the elected position itself, but in the power that comes with the ability to appoint one's family members and friends to county positions. In essence, by virtue of taking office you gain the ability to provide for your own (not to mention the bribes that come with that power). What does any of this have to do with a football blog entry? Well each team appearing in a BCS Bowl game in 2009 earned their respective conference $17.5 million dollars (to be equally divided amongst the conference's teams). Taking after the political spoil system down south, it is my belief that SEC officials went out of their way to look after the conference's East and West division front-runners in order to ensure that as many teams as possible remained in contention for BCS Bowl bids. Unfortunately, they did so at the expense of the conference's middle of the road teams that were on the verge of pulling huge upsets this season. My take is that by bringing two undefeated teams to the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on December 5th, the conference will essentially ensure that two SEC teams make BCS Bowl games, and thereby bring that conference a minimum of $35 million dollars in revenue to be shared (in addition to the revenue that they receive from lesser bowl bids). Under this theory of protectionism, even a third SEC team like LSU could wind up with a major bowl bid, thereby bringing the conference payout even higher. In the event that an East or West division champion were to arrive at the SEC Championship Game with one loss, and then suffered their second defeat in that game, there would be no guarantee that the conference would receive a second at-large BCS Bowl bid, thereby COSTING the conference $17.5 million. Now, let's take an in-depth look at some facts and accusations that have transpired in the SEC this season in regards to conference officiating:
10/3/09 - LSU defeats Georgia in order to go 5-0. That game is decided in part due to an excessive celebration penalty that the SEC later acknowledges was an erroneous call by the officiating crew. Georgia previously had one loss (in their season opener at Oklahoma State), and falls to 3-2 in an obvious rebuilding year in which the Bulldogs had little or no chance to compete for a BCS Bowl bid. LSU remains undefeated and in contention for the SEC West title pending their upcoming matchups with Florida and Alabama.
10/17/09 - Undefeated and #1 ranked Florida narrowly avoids being upset in a 23-20 victory over Arkansas. Their victory is aided by three questionable calls late in the game by the same officiating crew that was reprimanded after the LSU-Georgia game two weeks earlier. Specifically, Arkansas is called for questionable pass interference and personal foul calls on back to back plays in the 4th quarter that aided a game-tying touchdown drive by the Gators. Later, the officials did not call Florida WR Riley Cooper for an apparent offensive pass interference penalty, helping set up Florida's game winning field goal. The officials working the Florida - Arkansas game becomes the first crew in SEC history to be suspended after the conference determines that some of the questionable penalties that they called were not supported by video evidence.
10/24/09 - Florida defeats Mississippi State 29-19. Video evidence appears to show Mississippi State's Brandon McCrae stripping Florida's Dustin Doe of the ball just before he crosses the goal line on a 4th quarter interception return for a touchdown. The call on the field is NOT reviewed by the replay booth, and the decision not to review that play effectively kills Mississippi State's chances of winning that game.
10/24/09 - Tennessee loses to Alabama on a blocked field goal by Terrence Cody as time expires. Before the play is over Cody removes his helmet, causing Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin to question the motives of the SEC officiating crew for not calling a penalty. While this is a petty argument from coach Kiffin given that even if a penalty had been called possession of the ball would have already changed over to Alabama, he is the first conference coach to formally insinuate a formal bias by SEC officials in favor of conference front-runners, Florida and Alabama.
10/30/09 - The SEC announces that any further comments from coaches criticizing officials will result in suspension/fine.
"The problem is there is greater scrutiny than ever because more SEC games are on national television now than ever because of the television contracts. We've made a couple of mistakes, but I think overall the officiating has been terrific — given the scruitiny. And I know our officials know they are under greater scrutiny, and because of that they are better." - SEC Coordinator of Officials, Rogers Redding (referring to missed calls by conference referees and the SEC's new contract with ESPN this season instead of local provider Jefferson-Pilot).
And to that Mr. Redding, may I say EXACTLY! In their quest to become the nation's power conference, the SEC now has heightened scrutiny on some of the good old boy shenanigans that have been taking place behind "closed doors" (relatively speaking in terms of the national media) over the last past 15 years. Now that the rest of America IS watching on national television, THE REST OF THE NATION NOT ONLY HAS THE RIGHT, BUT ALSO THE ABILITY TO QUESTION YOUR INTEGRITY....especially since the BCS is being manipulated into a political moneymaker instead of a mechanism to reward the country's best and most qualified college football teams. Look, I'm not a big C-O-N-spiracy theorist, but I first brought up how I was starting to notice a pattern of officiating errors in SEC games that clearly went in favor of the conference's front-runners when I was speaking with my "Old Racist Neighbor" after the Florida - Arkansas game on October 17th. If the SEC wants to stop the negative perception that their league is attempting to propel their expected front-runners to the top of their respective divisions, then they may want to reconsider suspending their coaches for criticizing officials for bad calls and make sure that their games are played on an level playing field. Otherwise, this "gag order" just makes it look like they are trying to cover something up. Needless to say, I don't expect LSU to get any calls if their game at Alabama this weekend is even remotely close.
Speaking of Lane Kiffin, is there a bigger idiot in the game of football right now? First he comes to Tennessee and publicly accuses Florida coach Urban Meyer of a recruiting infraction for contact with a recruit that was actually within NCAA rules. Then, after failing to live up to the victory that he predicted against Florida, Kiffin accused coach Meyer of downplaying the Gator's margin of victory due to an outbreak of the flu. After being reprimanded by the SEC for his verbal sparring with Meyer, Kiffin went on to accuse league officials of holding a bias in favor of certain teams (perhaps rightfully so) following the Vols loss to Alabama, which in part lead to the league implementing it's policy to suspend/fine any coach who publicly critizes conference referees. Before I say anything else, I will go on record as saying that I truly hated former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. I thought he was one the biggest sleaze bags in all of sports, and I really was counting down the days until he got fired and a more likeable replacement was named as head coach for the Vols. I also will go on record in saying that I initially thought that Lane Kiffin got a raw deal when he was fired by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. As insane as Al Davis might be, after seeing the way Lane Kiffin has acted at Tennessee I just might be in Al's corner. His infamous letter (http://www.prosportsdaily.com/forums/showthread.php?t=277033) ripping coach Kiffin's integrity might not be that far off base after all. And as for Urban Meyer....while I've always respected him as a disciplinarian coach, his decision to suspend LB Brandon Spikes for only the first half of Florida's next game after he committed a blatant eye gouge of Georgia RB Washaun Ealey (http://video.google.com/videosearch?sourceid=navclient&rlz=1T4GGLL_enUS326US326&q=spikes+and+%22eye+gouge%22&um=1&ie=UTF8&ei=gyvxSunsG5Df8AaE5umICQ&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&ct=title&resnum=6&ved=0CCUQqwQwBQ#) clearly shows that he is more interested in winning than all else. Sometimes teaching a player a valuable life lesson to help them improve as a person is more important than chasing a National Championship.