Lane Kiffin is upset, not that it takes much to upset Lane Kiffin. Bobby Petrino is upset, not that Bobby Petrino is ever not upset. But Dan Mullen is likewise upset, and to date we’ve had no reason to lump him with the first two.
Mike Slive is upset because the highly compensated coaches in his highly compensated league are throwing a snit fit not seen since Duke and J.J. Redick were perceived to be getting all the calls in another sport in a different highly compensated league. The growing feeling around the South is that SEC refs are doing their part — more than their part, actually — to produce another conference championship game matching the nation’s top two teams. I have one problem with this line of thinking:
Football refs aren’t clever enough to pull off a conspiracy involving one team, let alone two. And I’m not speaking just of SEC refs; I’m speaking of refs in any and every conference.
It’s a little different in basketball, where there are only three officials on the court and the coaches are yelling in their ears all game. One cowed man in a gray shirt can make a huge impact on a basketball game.
But there are seven officials on a college football field, and some of them are stationed so far from the sideline they can’t hear anybody yelling anything. Are we to believe that a crew, which gathers only on weekends and then disperses for six days, is so well drilled that it can conjure up a decisive penalty out of thin air whenever the designated team needs a lift?
Penalties are judgments made at full speed. The personal foul against Arkansas’ Malcolm Sheppard in the Florida game was indeed a poor judgment, but I have to confess: I saw the replay of the sequence on a small TV in the Vanderbilt press box with the sound off and I thought Sheppard slammed into a Gator from behind. After viewing subsequent replays (see below), I realize I was clearly in error. But I can understand how a trailing official might have thought he saw the same thing — a gratuitous knockdown as opposed to a legitimate attempt to fend off a block — I thought I did.
OK, but now you’re asking: What about the celebration penalty on A.J. Green? First of all, I’m not sure how LSU fits into the get-Florida-and-Alabama-to-Atlanta scheme, but never mind. The TV replays showed nothing untoward, as the SEC has since conceded. But esteemed colleague Brant Sanderlin shot photos of the sequence (one is above) that indicated Green might — I said might – have been trying to pull away from his teammates and thereby “call attention to himself.”
I know, I know. It’s a goofy rule and it’s inconsistently applied, but it’s still a rule. And the ref in question, back judge Michael Watson, was standing closer to Green than any TV cameraman got.
About Kiffin’s beef: He has one. Alabama’s Terrence Cody blocked what would have been the game-winning field as time expired and tore off his helmet while the ball was still loose. Should have been a penalty. But would refs in the conference that chastised its men for penalizing Green dare to assess another excessive celebration in another high-profile game?
About Mullen’s: He has one, too. The ball appeared to have been stripped from Florida’s Dustin Doe before he crossed Mississippi State’s goal line with his interception. The replay official should have righted what the field officials failed to catch. But he didn’t. In my mind, that’s the worst of all the missed calls — one that was apparent after review but left in error.
But here’s the thing: The refs didn’t hand Doe the ball in the first place; he intercepted it. The refs didn’t guide the Tennessee kick into Cody’s hand; he blocked it. Refs are reacting to situations, not creating them. Sometimes they get it wrong. Most times they get it right. And one thing more:
SEC refs are better than ACC refs any day.