Wednesday, October 21, 2009

SEC Economics Dictate a Loss for Arkansas

The Southeastern Conference has the greatest fans, facilities, coaches, and players in all of college football. Unfortunately, it also has the most corrupt administration and commissioner, or the most inept officials in all of college football. Possibly both.

The league office, by continuing to send the crew led by Marc Curles to the most significant games, opens itself up to further ridicule. One can easily assume Mr. Curles, while not a very good official by definition, is quite adept at protecting the league's financial interests. What other explanation can there be for the Curles crew's continued employment?

I am no Bobby Petrino fan due to my support for the Atlanta Falcons. I am, however a fan of the student athletes, and their coaches, that work their tails off believing they can accomplish anything, beat anybody, if they just work hard enough and execute properly. It may be cliche, but anything can happen on any giving Saturday.

Not in the SEC. Not in the days of billion dollar television deals and multi-million dollar coaching salaries. No, the day of the fair football game appears to have come to an end in the SEC.

Today, the SEC is drama television. Each episode is build up to the next week's, until finally reaching a crescendo in the seasons finally. It is a formula that has been around as long as the television.

There are stars to promote. There are "good guys" and "bad guys". There are ratings draws and the lesser compelling teams.

Coaches are fond of saying winning the SEC is the ultimate goal, it is what teams can control. They can't control polls our computers, but winning the SEC was decided on the field. Was.

Crowing a legitimate SEC champion has now taken a back seat to winning the ratings war. Apparently the powers that be in Birmingham, New York and Bristol, have decided a key component to winning the ratings war is to have Florida, and its mega celebrity quarterback, remain undefeated.

Alabama opponents beware. It is a safe bet these same powers want Bama unblemished when they arrive in Atlanta.  I wonder if any Bama games are in Mr. Curles's future?

Even Mike Bianchi, an unashamed Gator homer, calls it what it is:

There's something foul with SEC referees - Sacramento Opinion - Sacramento Editorial | Sacramento Bee
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If the Florida Gators win the national title this year, the championship should come with an asterisk:


And the championship trophy should have a bronzed image of a blindfolded Southeastern Conference ref pulling a late flag out of his pocket and calling a phantom personal foul penalty on Arkansas.

And the inscription below the trophy should have my favorite limerick about college football officiating:

"There once was a ref whose vision,
Was cause for abuse and derision,
He remarked in surprise,
'Why pick on my eyes?
It's my conference that dictates my decision.'"

I'm not saying SEC officials are protecting their cash cow known as the Florida Gators, but I believe the SEC officiating crew that called the UF-Arkansas game Saturday was made up of Line Judge Mr. Two-Bits, Field Judge Albert the Alligator and Side Judge Bob Tebow.

Yes, I'm kidding, but only partly. Anybody who has read this column for any length of time knows I believe college football officiating is the biggest scam this side of the BCS. I'm not saying conference football officials blatantly cheat (although sometimes I wonder), but I am saying it's human nature that they are going to err on the side of their paycheck.

The SEC has admitted that the refs working the UF-Arkansas game were wrong on a crucial personal-foul penalty called against Arkansas DT Malcolm Sheppard on the Gators' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. There was also an equally awful pass-interference call against the Hogs in the fourth quarter, but the SEC wouldn't comment on that one.

Now, of course, the conspiracy theorists are out in full force, wondering if SEC refs are trying to protect the Gators. Their reasoning: If Florida and Alabama stay unbeaten, the SEC Championship Game will draw monster ratings. And monster ratings eventually translate into monster revenue.

These are the kinds of scandalous perceptions you create when you allow major conferences to employ their own refs. I've written this before and I will keep writing it until this travesty ends:

Why is college football the only college sport that has "conference officials" who traditionally work for only one league? College baseball umps and college basketball refs aren't employed exclusively by one conference. They are in regional officiating organizations that are utilized by multiple conferences.

But college football is different in that it is the only sport where the big conferences control all the money. And when you control all the money, you want control over the officials, too. Let's face it, one flag here or there can determine who gets a $20 million bowl bid and plays for a national championship.

Sorry, but I've seen too many times in the past where major conference officials have made blatantly bad calls in favor of the league that signs their paycheck.

Remember the "Swindle in the Swamp" a few years ago when ACC officials absolutely hand-delivered Florida State a victory over the Gators?

Or what about last year's UCF-USF game when Big East refs perpetrated a series of questionable calls that helped their boys beat the Knights?

And every longtime UCF fan will tell you about the 1999 game when the Knights were driving for the winning score against Georgia, but were taken out of field-goal range when an SEC official called a phantom penalty for, um, offensive pass interference.

Former Marshall coach Bob Pruett told me bluntly a few years ago: "The big schools want their own officials to protect their teams, and most of the mid-majors have to agree to it because they need the money."

UCF Coach George O'Leary says now he shies away from scheduling road games against major conference foes unless he can bring his own Conference USA officials.

"There's a reason you want your officials with you when you go play away," O'Leary said.

Dick Pace, an Orlando resident and a retired SEC official, told me once that he actually drew up a detailed plan in which he advocated officials be assigned to NCAA regions instead of hired by conferences.

"I presented the plan to former NCAA commissioner Cedric Dempsey," Pace said. "He said he liked it but said the conference commissioners would never go for it because they wouldn't want to give up their power. The major conferences want to be in charge of their own officials."

And so now we take you to a meeting of SEC refs, where they are discussing upcoming assignments. Let's listen in, shall we:

"Two bits, four bits, six bits - proclaim!

"We need the Gators in the championship game!"

And yes, there were other bad calls in the mugging of Arkansas:
SEC officials admit mistake during Arkansas-Florida game -
On his Sunday TV show Petrino rewound tape of a hit by UF linebacker Dustin Doe on back Dennis Johnson along the sideline.

"When they hit you when you're on the white, it's supposed to be a late hit, a 15-yard penalty," Petrino said. "Unfortunately, in Florida, they don't call it that way."

Arkansas had 10 penalties for 92 yards. Florida had just three penalties for 16 yards. Petrino was also upset about two penalties (a 15-yard personal foul and 10-yard pass interference call) on the Gators' final touchdown drive.

"It's unfortunate that the fourth quarter there's probably three plays that the officials made the difference in the game," Petrino said on his TV show.

Petrino is not alone. CBS announcers working the game seemed to agree with him on several of the questionable call

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