On most weeks, it is fun to be Rogers Redding. The professorial Redding received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Georgia Tech and then earned his Ph.d. in Physical Chemistry from Vanderbilt. At several institutions, Redding was the chemistry professor that everyone wanted because he could take the complex and make it understandable.
Redding, it turns out, didn’t know what complex really was until he became the SEC supervisor of football officials in 2006. And he never really knew there could be a three-week stretch like this, where he has been called everything but, as our friend Neal Boortz would say, a child of God.
“It’s been interesting, to say the very least,” said Redding.
The SEC, much to its chagrin, has been put front and center over an increasingly loud discussion over football officiating. In three of the last four Saturdays a big call in a nationally-televised SEC game has sparked controversy that resulted in suspension of officials, reprimands of coaches, and charges from fans of conspiracy theories that would make the members of the Grassy Knoll Society blush.
In the past two weeks SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has had to reprimand three coaches—Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino, Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen—for complaining publicly about officiating calls. The first couple of reprimands are public with no real teeth. Kiffin was sent notice on Monday that his two strikes are up. The third time could result in penalties and one of those potential penalties is suspension.
The latest two calls to spark debate came last Saturday:
**–With Florida up 23-13 in the fourth quarter at Mississippi State, Gator linebacker Dustin Doe returned an interception 23 yards for an apparent touchdown. TV replays indicated that the ball may have been stripped before Doe crossed the goal line. After reviewing the play, the call stood. Mullen went nuts after seeing his own video and said that the replay official should be punished.
On Monday Mullen received a reprimand from Slive.
The rules say that “conclusive video evidence” must be present to overturn the ruling on the field. After reviewing the call on Monday, Rogers said such evidence did not exist.
“The default position is that the call on the field stands unless there is conclusive, indisputable evidence that it is wrong,” Redding said. “It wasn’t there.”
Based on some still screen pictures that are out there, Mississippi State fans would disagree.
The other call came at the end of the Tennessee-Alabama game. Alabama’s Terrence Cody blocked a Tennessee field goal as time expired and in the wild celebration that followed the big guy took off his helmet. Gary Danielson, who covered the game for CBS, wondered if it should have been an unsportsmanlike violation because it happened while the ball was still live. Kiffin was convinced that it was and said publicly that the refs had missed it.
Well, the refs didn’t miss it. The way the rule is written, even if a penalty had been called (which it shouldn’t be in that situation), it would have been marked off on the next play and not the previous play. The ball belonged to Alabama after the blocked kick.
“That’s a case where the rule is pretty clear,” said Redding. “Even if there had been time left on the clock, the ball would have belonged to Alabama. And if a penalty had been called, it would still be Alabama’s ball after the penalty was enforced.”
Fans look at these calls and the ones in the Georgia-LSU game and the Florida-Arkansas game (where the crew was eventually suspended) that the SEC had to admit were wrong and wonder: What the heck is going on here? So if you’re keeping score at home, that’s three coaches and one officiating crew who have been punished.
“What we have to realize is that these things are so important to our fans and they care deeply,” Redding said. “We review everything that needs to be reviewed and when action needs to be taken, we take it. Our guys work extremely hard at this and take a lot of pride in it.”
Slive said he backs Redding and his officials.
“We have the best conference in college football because we have the best players, the best coaches and easily the best fans,” Slive said. “We take our responsibility seriously and we’re going to do what we have to do maintain the highest standards.”
I do have one suggestion as we move forward. One of the most popular conspiracy theories is that the officials are “looking out” for Florida and Alabama because they are 1-2 in the polls and seem destined to meet in the SEC championship game. I’m not going to spend any time writing about how silly that is, but we’re probably reaching the stage where it’s time to take that idea off the table.
It seems to me that it’s time for the conferences—all of them—to get out of the officiating business. Let’s have officials assigned on a national basis so that they are not identified with one conference, who is technically their employer. It certainly wouldn’t solve all the problems because officials are human beings and human beings are going to make mistakes. But it would take away one argument from those who see a massive conspiracy behind every missed call. That, in and of itself, would be a welcomed change.
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