Time for conferences to get out of the officiating business




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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379 comments Add your comment

SC Rules!!!

October 27th, 2009
7:08 pm

Corn cherries in a jar,

You’re comment about the refs rings true with a small caveate; come bowl time (Jan 1) the teams playing always have a “nuetral” ref crew working the game too keep the “favoritism” out of the picture. If the NCAA feels this is really becoming an issue then watch for them to install a plant to have non-conf officials call all the games period.

Dorsey Hill

October 27th, 2009
7:19 pm

Got 12,

I didn’t watch the game, but I know that Bama was called for one penalty and UT was called for 8. That is a significant ratio and a statistical improbability.

Johnny DangerDawg

October 27th, 2009
7:52 pm

Are conference officials standard in *every* college sport (basketball, gymnastics, tennis, etc.), or do some NCAA sports use “national” refs? Anybody know?


October 27th, 2009
8:48 pm

What about Julio Jones running and jumping to block the kick and falling on the pile? I thought that this was a penalty this year. What would have happened has they called it Tony?

Joe Bob Thibodaux

October 27th, 2009
8:51 pm

Tony, I think the TV industry has gotten way too much influence over the game of college football. All the games are canned to last the same amount of time. The endless replays prove that refs are human and that they make mistakes. Still, if the ESPN’s, CBS, and etc. didn’t have so much money involved, then the game might revolve around the players instead of the technology and TV time outs–boy what a stupit concept, THE TV TIME OUT. It has gotten to the point that if you want real untarnished football, HIGH SCHOOL is the only option.

Dan Mullen

October 27th, 2009
9:01 pm

Mike, the check cleared….thanks….Dan.


October 27th, 2009
9:03 pm

Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon discussed the sorry state of officiating on PTI tonight as well…


October 27th, 2009
9:04 pm

Time for everyone to stop whining about the refs – fans, coaches, and players. It’s just like our country’s culture today where a team loses and everyone looks around for someone to blame. Get over it, and get a life.

Former Georgian

October 27th, 2009
9:04 pm

I think the FAA should be in charge of college refereeing. When pilots did something stupid, they didn’t just suspend them for a couple of weeks, they revoked their licenses. I bet you couldn’t find anyone willing to fly with those pilots again, just as you couldn’t find anyone not associated with AL, FL or LSU willing to have the suspended crew referee their games. However, it is obvious that the problem extends beyond that particular crew of officials. Every Saturday there is at least one more egregiously bad call to keep AL, Fl, or LSU undefeated. That being said, I agreed with the non-call at the end of the Alabama game.


October 27th, 2009
9:34 pm

Since the SEC has confirmed that a player can remove his helmet before the last play of the game is over without penalty, the next time UT defends a last-play FG attempt, Kiffin should instruct his team to remove their helmets immediately on the snap and throw them at the holder or up in the air to try and hit the football. The flag (IF thrown – ha!) would be disregarded because the time expired.

my only comment

October 27th, 2009
9:58 pm

A Ga fan, I have no ‘agenda’ in the MSU-UF game. I did notice, however, that the review of the play was done in record time. Usually, a close play such as the one in question takes 90 seconds to more than 2 minutes to review. This one was done in under 30 seconds, and it was one of the closest you will see. Also, it appeared to me that there was conclusive evidence that the call had been missed, contrary to what Dr Redding states. I realize that officials are human, and things are missed. This is part of the allure of sports, but I think your idea has merit, TB. Certainly something worth exploring.

Joe Bob Thibodaux

October 27th, 2009
9:59 pm

Why wasn’t there a penalty before the LSU game with Florida?
California defensive tackle commits to LSU

Advocate sportswriter
Published: Oct 27, 2009

When he visited LSU for the Florida game, Cassius Marsh saw several things he liked. And he saw one thing he definitely didn’t.

Before kickoff, Florida’s players gathered at midfield in Tiger Stadium and stomped on the revered Eye of the Tiger. LSU fans booed. Marsh cringed.

“It kind of (ticked) me off,” Marsh said, “made me want to get out there.”

Perhaps Les Miles should send the Gators a thank-you card. All that stomping stirred something in Marsh, who became LSU’s 23rd Class of 2010 commitment Monday morning.

Marsh, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive tackle, hails from Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif. He ends a commitment drought of more than two months for the Tigers following a recruiting bonanza in the spring and summer.

my only comment

October 27th, 2009
10:01 pm

Jim Bob, ESPN is now broadcasting High School games, so they can get their money grubbing hands onto the last bastion of true sportmanship left in America. Within five years they will have ruined it the way they have the NFL, NBA, MLB, CFB, and CBB.


October 27th, 2009
10:03 pm

The NWA used to use special refs for big matches, Mr Wrestling II, etc…Perhaps NCAA should do the same.

Joe Bob Thibodaux

October 27th, 2009
10:16 pm

my only comment: I must lead a sheltered life for I did not know that. I have seen televised high school games, but I can’t recall TV timeouts.


October 27th, 2009
10:33 pm


Nope. Its not a statistical improbability that UT had 8 penalties to Bama’s one. They had 1 call that was subjective. The rest of the penalties were for delay of game, illegal procedure, false start, etc. There was nothing subjective about any of those calls.

What on earth are you thinking? If someone doesn’t snap the ball in time, jumps offsides, etc. is the ref supposed to not call something that is a cut and dried in your face penalty?

You let your anti-Alabama bias get in the way of your thinking and you just assumed cause one team had more penalties that it HAS TO BE some sort of statistical improbability. Bullsheet!

TCU is coming aint goin nowhere

October 27th, 2009
10:38 pm

You aint to bright are ya boy? So in your mind Bama has a loss. Based on what? Based on an unsportsmanlike penalty that had it been called would have given the ball to Bama minus 15 yards? Dam you are stupid.

And Florida has 2 losses by your count? Based on what? So MSU had a bad call on the Dustin Doe fumble return. Take away 7 pts from Florida. Guess what idiot? They still win the game even without that td.

Grow a brain you freaking moron.


October 27th, 2009
10:42 pm

I used to like your columns. Not anymore. You need to lose the Mr. College Football moniker.

Signal Dawg

October 28th, 2009
12:20 am

With all the Florida fans saying that Florida was already up by 10, I see where you are going, but, Miss State ended the game 10 points behind UF, correct? Without that touchdown, that would make the difference 3, along with a huge momentum swing in Miss St’s favor.


October 28th, 2009
12:24 am

tony let conference do their and you stick to do what you do for aliving that is working for the ajc and ga will upset the mightly gators

Its a gator world

October 28th, 2009
1:25 am

Lotta resentment and anger towards Florida and Bama and the lunatic idea that they’re both getting a bunch of bogus calls on purpose. hmmmm. I wonder why that would be?

Deep Ball

October 28th, 2009
7:34 am


Are you seriously complaining about the late hit call touchdown in the UF/LSU game?? LSU still scored AFTER that play. The Riley Cooper touchdown catch was completely bogus and had a MUCH bigger impact on the outcome of the game.

Maybe it’s coincedental, but it sure feels like Florida catches more bogus calls in their favor than any other team in the conference.


October 28th, 2009
8:32 am

Looks like Mullen was wrong and Kiffin both wrong and dumb, if he was being honest. It’s more the coaches manipulating the media either to get a favorable call the next time or cover their behinds or rile up their own fans. I haven’t played in 40 years and I apparently know the rules better than Kiffin says he does.


October 28th, 2009
8:43 am

Oh Gman sorry but I went home… we were having so much fun. Listen, if you deny that the PI called in the end zone, and the PF call on Arky (that they’ve admitted were both close, and ghost respectively) didn’t lead to 7 points, you are indeed nuts and looking thru Gator glasses. If you deny that Cooper spun the DB on his TD catch with a ref standing right on it, then you are indeed nuts and looking thru Gator glasses.

Of course Arky missed many ops to put the game away, as did UF. But UF is the better team and Arky was in way over their heads just to be in it with 5 minutes to go. I actually did not want UF to loose nor did I want them loosing against MSU. However I do hate to see a team that plays so hard get shafted at the end of the game and essentially lose the game on those calls. We were on the winning side once of a terrible call and I didn’t like winning that way. Guess thats the difference between a classy organization and UF.

Could UF had gotten the 1st downs any way? Sure they could have, but we’ll never know. Could they have scored anyway? Sure, but again we’ll never know.

And that’s what you gators and tide fans are missing in everyone else’s arguments. We’ll never know because what should have happened didn’t. The refs influenced the game and any village idiot knows at least that much. They influenced our game against LSU. LSU may have scored anyway, but they changed the momentum, and both teams strategies for the final 1:09… so we’ll never know what would have happened had all these games been called correctly.

It’s not UF’s fault, nor Bama’s nor LSU’s among many others I’m sure that they’ve benefited from some shady calls. You guys just don’t like hearing your teams worthiness questioned, raised your dander. But you have to be willing to understand that we just want to never even talk about the refs at the end of a ballgame, if you’re talking about them… they influenced it. If they didn’t, they’d still be working this weekend. Don’t argue with your heart GMan… you loose credibility. Admit that you got the calls, man up and go play next week. I expect a close game in Jacksonville believe it or not, and dear god I pray the refs don’t get involved!


October 28th, 2009
9:09 am

Hal, I haven’t argued any of the calls you presented. I definitely believe we were very fortunate to not have it. Do I see calls go the other way that don’t appear founded – yes! I too would rather see the game played without it coming down to a bad call – which is why it should never come down to that and I don’t whine if my team loses because of it. Many years ago that would have been my argument but now I see it for what it is – instead I question the other 59 minutes of the game around that call which led to someone not in a football uniform deciding the outcome. Bad calls are always going to remain a part of the game and unfortunately one or both of the teams feel the effects. But to say that a single play call, a single player on that play, a fan throwing his cup on the field, the wind blowing too much in the stadium because of the architecture of the seating, OR that the refs caused the loss may be stretching it a bit. I’d rather accept that my team put us into a situation that let someone else decide the game. I remember when we were 0-10-1 and I don’t think it was because of bad officiating…although there weren’t camera angles and instant replay on ESPN or YouTube so I could see it, hear it, and over analyze it! I hope for a good clean and exciting game this weekend. May the best team win – without the aid of a yellow hanky. Cheers!

iJax | Baker’s Dozen

October 28th, 2009
9:01 pm

[...] Mississippi State- Speaking of bad calls, if the SEC wants their coaches to stop criticizing officials, perhaps they should hire some who can actually call games correctly, or do as Tony Barnhart suggests and get out of the refereeing game altogether. [...]

Coach O

October 28th, 2009
9:55 pm

You guys act like this is the first football season ever in which a bad call got made in a game. Every team in the SEC has played in a game at one time or another that had questionable calls that probably affected the outcome. It happens. Get over it.

[...] Tony Barnhart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It’s time for conferences to get out of the officiating business. [...]


November 1st, 2009
4:50 pm

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