Nobody asked me, but SEC Commissioner Mike Slive may eventually have to rethink and readjust his position on the coaches and their comments on officiating.
When Slive decided to get tough on coaches who commented negatively on officiating, it was absolutely the right thing to do at the time. And for the rest of this season the threat of fines and/or suspensions should stay in place. The atmosphere is just too toxic and every time there is a controversial call, like the one in last Saturday’s LSU-Alabama game, it just gets worse. So the rule needs to stay in place to keep a lid on things for the rest of this season.
But in the offseason when things calm down, the commissioner may need to take a second look at this policy. Here’s why. Somebody I respect a great deal in this business made this point to me. He didn’t give me permission to use his name so I won’t. But he did change my thinking on this issue.
When their teams get the short end of a bad officiating call, coaches feel compelled to say something. Because to say nothing makes them appear weak to some elements of their fan base. I saw one guy in a comment section take Les Miles to task this week because he decided to take the high road on the interception/non-interception call against Alabama. It was clear from Miles’ comments that he didn’t agree with the call but to some fans that’s not enough. They want fire and brimstone. It’s silly but it’s true.
When Georgia’s Mark Richt didn’t raise hell in public about the bad excessive celebration call in the LSU game Oct. 3, some people saw this as a signing of weakness in Richt. That’s also silly. Richt knew it was a bad call but handled the situation with class. Maybe I missed the memo, but when did that become a bad thing?
How about this for an adjustment to the rule for 2010? Coaches can say they disagree with a call. They can say that they saw the call differently than the guy who made it. They can even say the call was “disappointing.” But utter one word that questions the integrity of the officials (as Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin did after the Alabama game) or suggests that an official be “punished” (as Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen did after the Florida game) and the hammer comes down. Hard. Make the line for the coaches bright red and 100 feet tall. You cross it and you will pay a dear price.
Really good coaches push the envelope. In this league coaches have to do it just to survive. It could be the genie is out of the bottle on this one and can’t be put back in. Because the league is so competitive now and because the stakes are so high, the commissioner could be exactly right: Zero tolerance on this subject may be the only thing that will work with these guys.
But, within limits, we want a little feistiness in our coaches. It’s entertaining and college football is in the entertainment business. My friend told me that you can’t completely neuter these guys or the SEC, at least from a personality standpoint, will end up like the Big Ten.
God help us if that happens.
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