At least three SEC coaches must wish they could take a mulligan on their preseason vote not to permit instant replays in league games. You'd vote for the cameras, too, even if their use meant the games would last 30 minutes longer, if they also could counterbalance the serial incompetence among our zebra citizens.
"Incompetence" is too strong a word, you say? Not really. Not after the officials, not once but three times in one week, directly impacted the final results of conference games with calls (or the lack thereof) that veered from the Twilight Zone into the realm of dog-poot pitiful.
First, LSU lost a gameand perhaps any hope of repeating its national titlewhen the refs gave Auburn a do-over on a last-second extra-point try. The refs ruled that an LSU defender had improperly touched a teammate in his attempt to block the PAT. As it turned out, the block was unnecessary, and so was the call, since the kicker shanked the PAT. Given a second opportunity, he split the uprights, and Auburn won 10-9. You can read what LSU coach Nick Saban said, but even a Village Voice-owned newspaper cannot print what he was thinking.
That same afternoon, the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game turned on a non-call. With time evaporating in the final period, the Commodores gambled on fourth down from the Rebel 30, hoping to continue a drive and put the game away. QB Jay Cutler was stopped short, but an Ole Miss tackler grabbed his facemask. Everyone along the sidelineexcept, apparently, for two SEC refereessaw the infraction. But no flag appeared; Ole Miss forced overtime and won the game. Lord knows Vandy could screw up a one-man rock fight. This time, though, they got a powerful push.
The day's most egregious episodea non-call that will live in infamycame in Knoxville, and it handed the Vols a win over Florida.
With barely a minute to play (OK, a minute and a half if you, unlike the refs, are counting), a Gator receiver and a Vol defensive back engaged in a little yapping. In full view of the referee, the Vol slapped the Gator upside the helmet. The Gator returned in kind. The Vol turned toward the official and held out his hands as if to say, "Are you gonna let him do that?" The ref obligingly threw a flag and marched off 15 yards against Floridawhich meant that Tennessee wound up with the ball 15 yards further upfield after the ensuing punt.
To make matters worse, the officials lost track of official timegiving the Vols 25 extra seconds as they marched into position for a final field goal try. With the penalty and the bonus time, they maneuvered just close enough to drill the winning kick.
Though the game was thrilling, especially for us in the Volunteer State, the officiating was an embarrassment for the SECespecially for Bobby Gaston, the league's supervisor of officials, who was at Neyland Stadium for the game. Last week, Gaston announced that the refs would receive disciplinary action for their lapses in Knoxvillethough he didn't specify whether it would involve slaps on the wrist, running the bleachers at 6 a.m. or a stern admonition to try and do better next time.
Had Bobby included all three offending officiating crews from Black Saturday, and had the disciplinary action included public whippings or imprisonment at Guantanamo, I'd say he might have had something.
Now let me also say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I am a ref baiter from way back. I haven't been by lately to confirm it, but some of my old rec league teammates claim there's still a dusty plaque somewhere in the Shelby Park Community Center acknowledging that I led the league in technical fouls for three straight seasons.
Some folks would disagree, but I figure that this background makes me particularly qualified to speak for those who have been aggrieved by heinous refereeing. So I'll undertake to draft a letter to Mr. Gaston on behalf of those coaches who can't speak freely on this subject.
Let's get right to the point. Y'all suck.
Well, let's go back on that. It's not fair to refs who moderately suck to lump them in with you. Y'all spectacularly suck.
Our coaches in the SEC have coached all over this great football land of ours, and we know sucky officiating when we see it. We see it all too often around here.
How does it happen that the nation's premier football conference sucks the hind teat when it comes to zebras? How can they forget to start the clock? How can they miss penalties that couldn't be more obvious if they bit them on the nose?
It's almost as if you're under the impression that just because we're involved in "amateur athletics," y'all think we should have amateur refs, too. Maybe you missed the memo, but SEC football is an alumni/fan entertainment BUSINESS. There are student-athletes in this league (from what we hear) who are pulling down more per week than your quasi-professional whistle blowers. And that just doesn't seem right.
Here's what we think should be done. Install instant replay. Now. For all games.
Also, implant tiny electrodes under the skin of each ref. When the replay shows they've made an incorrect call, the ref gets a jolt of electricity, kind of like that invisible dog fencing. If they screw up something major (like forgetting to start the clock), the voltage ratchets up closer to Ol' Sparky range.
While we believe the electrode system would offer the ideal deterrent, we'll settle for just the replay. But everything has to be reviewableno exemptions on judgment calls. We want a ref in the pressbox to be able to call for a review, like they have during the last two minutes in NFL games.
We want him to be a Big Ten ref.
The replay would be a winner for the SEC and a winner for your boys, too, because you could correct mistakes on the spot. Still not sure? Then here's a question to think about before you go to bed tonight. Would you rather have your refs walking the streets of Fallujah, or trying to walk out of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge after another game-changing snafu?
That's what we thought, too.
Nick, Ron, Bobby, Phil, Mike, Lou, Tom
And a few others.
Of course, Bobby Johnson would never sign a letter that said "sucky," unless he wanted to make himself run the stadium steps. But I sure bet he's thinking it.