To Rant Or Not Rant?

I am conflicted. On Monday I am going to have the opportunity to ask Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive some questions. The questions I would like to ask might seem rude. Ooooh, I would hate to be rude! Slive will join sportswriters from across the state when the Alabama Sports Writers Association has its annual convention in Tuscaloosa Monday and Tuesday.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has always been very cordial to me. He is one friendly fellow. Thus the conflict. No one wants to be rude to a nice guy.

But it's difficult for me to understand how he can accept the low level of competency in SEC football officiating, and so I may hit a nerve with him if I take the rude road.

I don't blame Slive for the decline of SEC football officiating. He inherited that sorry state from Roy Kramer. SEC supervisor of officials is Bobby Gaston is one of the nicest people I've ever known. Slive and Gaston are both intelligent. And from time-to-time they take a tough stance when officials call bad.

But occasional suspensions won't get the situation rectified. Neither will the implementation of a halfway solution involving videotape review beginning in the coming season. That's the lame answer that will evolve if I ask the rude question. The problem with officiating is officials.

A logical question is why has the SEC never taken advantage of the expertise of Bobby Skelton, who lives in Montgomery and who was an outstanding official, enticed from college officiating to the pro game, working Super Bowls and being one of the NFL pioneers in replay solutions? The answer is likely that Bobby Skelton is a former Alabama quarterback, not exactly what the SEC is looking for in officials.

Why would I jump Slive? Probably because of his "I jumped out of my chair" comment following a play in Alabama's 34-14 win over Tennessee in Knoxville in 2002. It is almost certain the officials twice missed Alabama players with the ball having a knee on the ground. And that botched call may have cost Tennessee as many as three points in that 20-point game in Knoxville.

I want to know if Slive jumped out his chair last year when Alabama went to Knoxville and there were TWO infractions on a 45-yard Tennessee punt return that led to the Vols' only offensive touchdown in a four-point game. Would Tennessee have gotten that touchdown with 87 yards to go (Tennessee would have started on its 13 instead of the Alabama 29 had the first penalty been called)? We'll never know, but the odds are a lot longer.

Did Slive jump out of his chair when he watched the replay of the Alabama game at Baton Rouge? In that game the same official (a Tennessee native) had two calls, both of which may have been 14-point swings at a critical time in the game. Alabama was leading 9-6 and knocking at the LSU goalline when quarterback Spencer Pennington passed into the end zone. Bama's intended receiver was knocked to the ground by the LSU defender, who then made an interception and ran it out to change field position. The Bama defense held, forcing a punt. Pennington went back to pass and saw his receiver break free behind the LSU secondary. But just as he prepared to pass he saw his receiver tackled from behind...right in front of the same official who had missed the pass interference. Not only was there no call, Pennington fumbled when he was hit and LSU turned it into a touchdown.

Now those are plays to jump out of a chair about.

Alabama has beenj on the wrong end of too many missed calls in crucial SEC games for many, many years. Skeptics may say the missed calls even out, but they haven't been even. The situation smells of corruption. If every team got as many bad calls as does Bama, it would mean SEC officiating is incompetent beyond measure.

New Florida Coach Urban Meyer, coming from far away, has reportedly said that he won't let his team be in position to let officiating have an effect on the outcome. Lots of luck. His predecessor, Ron Zook, was almost certainly fired because of his loss at Tennessee, a lost made possible by SEC officials failing to call a flagrant foul right in front of a zebra, and then compounding the error by mishandling the clock, the only chances Tennesszee could have had to win the game.

You can bet Alabama Coach Mike Shula is happy to see the limited replay being implemented this year. Although it won't address most wrongs (including those that led to LSU and Tennessee wins over Alabama), but it could get some. Last year the Big Ten experimented with the replay judgments on things like lost fumbles. It was ironic (and crucial) that Bama's Music City Bowl loss by 20-16 to Big Ten opponent Minnesota was facilitated by officials twice missing fumble calls. There was no replay in the bowl game.

I've got just a few days to decide on my deportment.


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