What if an airliner went down in your backyard? Noah’s flood came roaring down the street? How about snow in July?
The SEC would ask you to ignore the obvious tragedy, moisture and cold.
There have been plenty of all three lately in the Southeastern Conference which is more famous this season for what its officials haven’t done than what its teams have accomplished.
This being the world’s best amateur football league, officiating gaffes aren’t met with simple disdain by coaches and fans. They are viewed as tragedy – wrecking a team’s season; moisture – tears of gut-wrenching anger and cold – as in the temperature of the shoulder given the league office which oversees the zebras.
The ongoing story took another turn on Friday when the SEC said it would begin fining and suspending coaches who criticize officials. Forget the reprimands that have done as much good as a rubber knife in a gun fight. Commissioner Mike Slive made a point of saying after the next outburst -- anywhere by anyone -- things would escalate “right to suspensions and fines.” He was empowered by the conferences CEOs and ADs who basically gave him carte blanche to step up the penalties.
Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino was incensed after perceived missed calls against Florida. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen vigorously ripped officials who didn’t rule that Florida linebacker Dustin Doe fumbled before scoring a touchdown on an interception. (To be fair, I still can’t tell after watching multiple replays. Without overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the call was correct.)
Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin is working on the hat trick having been reprimanded twice this year. After critiquing officials’ failings in last week’s Alabama game, he practically begged for more from the conference saying he wasn’t concerned with “one of those letters”.
The outbursts had the effect of putting out fire with gasoline. Fans have reacted predictably. They screamed everything from conspiracy – critics have suggested that the league is helping Bama and Florida keep the team’s BCS and national championship hopes alive – to incompetency.
Nothing new there. All fans think their conference’s officials are the worst.
Throughout it all, the SEC has shown unprecedented transparency. For the first time it publicly admitted officiating errors and suspending the crew that worked the Gators-Hogs game. The cut was two ways, though, as the coaches were called out too.
While the transparency has been refreshing and appreciated (at least by the media), the SEC just made a U turn. It is asking coaches to ignore that smoldering jet in the backyard, the rush of water coming down the street and snowflakes in summer.
What’s obvious to everyone else, will now be a conference secret. What bugs me is that there is no wriggle room. What is this, Havana? A conference spokesman told me that the commissioner can act with “discretion.” What I want to know is a simple, “I didn’t agree with the call,” going to be met with a suspension or a fine? It’s clear the public vetting of officiating errors is about to end. There’s nothing like a suspension or going into a coach’s wallet to shut him up.
Still, it seems heavy handed and a bit reactionary. What disturbs me is that there will continue to be officiating goof-ups. It's human nature. The current point of emphasis on flagrant fouls and excessive celebration is asking for controversy. Ask a thousand people to define an excessive celebration or a flagrant personal foul and you might get 500 different answers.
As it is, officials are asked to make snap judgments. They don’t have the benefit of instant replay. They’re not professionals. These guys are contract workers who love what they do. There are no conspiracies.
Now they’re protected by the coaches’ lack of free speech because the SEC presidents and ADs have spoken.