…Because SEC Officiating Has Somehow Gotten Worse

SEC referees suck. They established that when they called the Georgia-Oklahoma State game early this season. They reiterated it — adamantly — during the Georgia-LSU game early this month, and two weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy post condemning the absurdity of the calls and asserting the personal and collective belief that the SEC absolutely had to do something if it wanted to retain its role as king of college football.

Then, the same Georgia-LSU crew officiated the Florida-Arkansas game last Saturday and made such deplorable calls that I am running out of adjectives for just how bad the state of SEC officiating has gotten.

The truth is, I didn’t watch the Florida-Arkansas game. I was assisting with my best friend’s mother’s wedding, and for the first time since I was 11 (my dad and I talked about it….11 is the most recent year we can come up with) I did not watch a single football play on a fall Saturday. But I saw the clips — and not just of the questionable defensive pass interference or the obvious, uncalled offensive pass interference or the ridiculous (not a strong enough word, I know, but again, running out of adjectives here…) personal foul for a clean block. Florida scores, and Tebow pumps his fist and jumps around and yells and gestures (a hell of a lot more than A.J. Green), and that’s fine. Part of the game. But Green runs to his teammates, and that’s a foul?! This Arkansas lineman lays a clean hit on a Florida guy 20 yards away from the play, and that’s a foul?!

This has to be a joke.

As tempting as it is to buy into, I don’t think the SEC bigwigs are conspiring to set up undefeateds. (LSU and Florida in Baton Rouge the week after Georgia-LSU. Alabama and Florida in the SEC Championship.) Undefeated or not, the SEC has three of the very best teams in football and is without a doubt the strongest football conference, and the quality of league play (and the league’s recent TV deals) ensures that the SEC is making its billions regardless. However, as countless articles and blogs have pointed out, the mere perception of a conspiracy damages the league’s credibility, and boy, do a lot of people perceive that.

Hence, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive decided that this time, there should be a “public hanging,” and suspended Marc Curles — the ref responsible for the [okay, I’m officially out, insert your favorite substitution for “really, really bad” here] personal foul call against Arkansas — and the rest of his crew until Nov. 14.

“A series of calls that have occurred during the last several weeks have not been to the standard that we expect from our officiating crews…I have taken this action because there must be accountability in our officiating program. Our institutions expect the highest level of officiating in all of our sports and it is the duty of the conference office to uphold that expectation,” Slive said in a statement.

In an article by ESPN’s Mike Fish, Curles took accountability. He told Fish he knew he had made a mistake, and passionate fans have called, emailed and texted him not-so-nice things to make sure he knows it. I don’t doubt the man has been harassed, and given his day job as a normal guy with a normal job, a wife and two daughters, part of me does sympathize with him.

Curles also took Fish through the play surrounding the personal foul call from his perspective:

“I saw out of the corner of my eye — the play went over near the sideline. I’m trailing the play, moving in that direction. And out of the corner of my eye, I see a vicious blow, and I see the Florida player go flying down 20 yards behind the play. And in my mind, the Arkansas guy had blindsided him and knocked the player that was completely out of the play, which would have been a personal foul. Obviously, that isn’t what happened. Where I made the mistake is I didn’t see the whole thing. I didn’t see how it developed. I saw out of the corner of my eye what I thought was a foul. I can’t think something is a foul. I got to know it is. And that was my mistake. And I know better than that. What makes me mad at myself is that I know better than to call something if I didn’t see the whole thing.”

And this is where I remain pissed off and infuriated with the SEC.

1. Rogers Redding, the head of the SEC officials, said after the Georgia-LSU game that they tell the refs not to seek out personal foul calls, but if they see them, to call them. Not sure how Redding has been transferring that message to his officials, but clearly, based on Curles’s statement, it isn’t working. Curles was looking for something to call and then exaggerating what he thought he saw. Exactly what Redding claims to tell the refs not to do.

2. Curles admits that his mistake was thinking there might have been a foul instead of knowing. That might be excusable…IF HIS CREW HADN’T MADE THE SAME MISTAKE TWO WEEKS BEFORE!!! Redding and the SEC chastised the crew mere days before for thinking and exaggerating instead of knowing, and yet they go out exactly 14 days later and make an equally [again, have fun with your thesaurus and “awfully, awfully terrible” here] call?!

Curles is getting all the blame here — and don’t get me wrong, he deserves a ton of it — and I guess Slive should get a tiny bit of credit for finally doing something, but the real culprit here is the SEC. The conference is making billions, features the best games and teams every week and still somehow manages to not properly train its officials, even after publicly acknowledging their blatant mistakes. As Tony Barnhart points out, the issue here isn’t just bad calls, it’s the mindset — pushed by people like Slive and Redding — of the officials.

The worst part? There’s a simple solution to all this. Use a tiny fraction of those billions and hire the refs (there are only eight crews) full-time. Or even just full-time in the fall. Give them (a lot) more training, and give them explicit instructions on how not to ruin excellent high-profile games by over-anticipating and imagining costly fouls.

Sigh…

Georgia doesn’t play this weekend. (A nice breather for me. And also an opportunity to figure out if I’m going to Jacksonville next week.) So I won’t be as enthralled as I usually am. Of course, I’ll still be watching. More than that, I’ll be praying that on Monday I don’t hear a statement from Redding or Slive or know the name of another official.

Here’s to a (hopefully) ref-less weekend. Happy fall football Saturday, kids.

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