To stand out as a really bad officiating crew in the SEC is a challenge.
But the team of officials headed up by Georgia Tech grad Marc Curles deserves some sort of special golden flag for phantom calls that affect the outcome of a major game.
You’ll remember Curles and Co. for the bogus celebration call on Georgia’s A.J. Green in the LSU game, a call that the head of SEC officiating, Rogers Redding (another grad of the Institute), subsequently had to disavow.
Now Redding has had to issue another statement on a call by Curles’ crew during a fourth quarter drive in Saturday’s Florida-Arkansas game when the Gators were trying to tie it up. Razorbacks defensive lineman Malcolm Sheppard was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for legally using his shoulder to fend off a Florida player who was coming at him. It wasn’t even close to an infraction, as CBS’ Gary Danielson pointed out, but the 15-yard penalty set up the Gators to score on the next play.
As was the case with the Georgia call, the conference said it found “no evidence on the video to support the personal foul penalty” against the Hogs.
Cold comfort to Arkansas, just as was the SEC’s mea culpa for Georgia after the LSU game.
Arkansas also had complained about a questionable pass interference call on that same drive and a noncall on a late hit by the Gators elsewhere in the game, but the SEC said those were “judgment” calls. You can check out video clips of some of the Curles crew’s work in that game here.
It’s gotten to the point where you have to wonder what it takes in the SEC for an officiating crew to get suspended. Maybe the magic number is three. With the Dogs’ luck, Curles and his crew will get a chance to go for the trifecta when Georgia and Florida meet in Jacksonville. Or perhaps we’ll get the Penn Wagers crew, which has proved its deficient knowledge of the rule book in the past. Talk about Hobson’s choice.
On top of these blown calls, there’s the inconsistent manner in which unsportsmanlike conduct flags are being thrown in the SEC, as I noted in Sunday’s blog.
Certain teams, such as Georgia, routinely draw those flags while others, including league leaders Florida and Alabama, don’t. It’s getting to be something of a joke what Tim Tebow can get away with. Likewise, the self-aggrandizing behavior of Alabama defenders in Saturday’s game against South Carolina in apparent violation of the rules against taunting or calling attention to one’s self. One Bama player even took his helmet off on the field after a big play, supposedly a sure infraction, but no flag was thrown.
Now, personally, I have no problem with kids celebrating, gesturing or calling attention to themselves. Emotion is a big part of college football. Such displays are against the rule, but it’s a dumb rule. Heck, I don’t even have a problem with taunting, as unpleasant as it can be sometimes. I wish the rule would go away.
But as long as it’s in place, they either need to call it on everyone or not call it at all. Just apply it consistently across the board. And that very plainly is not happening right now.
There were gestures in both the Florida-Arkansas and Alabama-South Carolina games that were much more blatant than what Orson Charles did in the LSU game, but no flags.
And in Saturday’s Georgia-Vandy game, Rantavious Wooten was flagged for spiking the ball after a big catch, but a Commodore celebrating a sack by throwing a towel in the air drew no flag.
I don’t really think that there’s a conspiracy among the SEC refs to “get” Georgia. I’m not so sure, however, that there isn’t some sort of unspoken agenda to “protect” certain high-flying teams. And even if it’s just a case of officials perceiving certain teams as undisciplined and being more prone to throw flags on them than on other teams seen as model citizens, that plainly isn’t fair.
At the very least, Redding and his officials should be aware that there’s the perception that Florida and Alabama are treated differently because it’s in the SEC’s financial interests that they succeed.
As CBS Sports exec Mike Aresco told the Birmingham News last week, “Tim Tebow has just been ratings gold … You cannot overstate the value of Florida and Alabama. … If you needed two teams to carry you, those are the two.”
Maybe that kind of thinking only goes on at CBS headquarters and not at the network’s business partner, the SEC. If so, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Redding need to act now to counter the perception that the fix is in. When you start to hear comparisons between the SEC and professional wrestling, decisive action is needed to restore fans’ faith in the conference.
Suspending Curles and his crew would be a good first step. But more than that, Slive needs to make it abundantly clear to all officiating crews that the rules must be applied evenly and equally, no matter who is playing.