SEC Stiffens Critics' Penalties

Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant was an expert on the rules of football. "How can you play the game if you don't know the rules?" he said. He used that knowledge to defeat his opponents—such as the tackle eligible—and as a result rules were changed in a futile attempt to thwart him.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban is also well-versed in the rules and as a result has seen a rules change that is widely known as "the Saban rule."

In Bryant's case, former Ole Miss Coach John Vaught was a member of the rules committee. He had been beaten twice by Alabama and attributed Bama's success in part to throwing passes to a tackle who was an eligible receiver owing to the formation. He insisted on a rules change that centers, guards and tackles wear numbers from 50-79 and that no one wearing one of those numbers could be an eligible receiver.

In Saban's case, the rules were changed to penalize hard work. Saban is an excellent recruiter, one who likes to be out in the spring meeting coaches and going to high schools. When he had a "bump," a legal "hello opportunity" with a prospect, those who don't work as hard and/or who didn't understand the rules passed a new rule to prohibit the head coach from being in high schools during the spring observation period.

Bryant continued winning and Saban continues to recruit exceptionally well.

In an unusual twist, the Southeastern Conference has had a mid-season change in the penalties that can be assessed for a rules violation. This isn't because a coach knew the rules so well. It's because he didn't know them. Call it the "Kiffin rule."

The petulant Lane Kiffin had barely moved into the big chair vacated by Phil Fulmer at Tennessee before he was called on the carpet by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for a Kiffin slur against Florida Coach Urban Meyer. Kiffin didn't know recruiting rules.

Last week Kiffin was reprimanded for a second time by Slive because he questioned the officials in Alabama's 12-10 win over Tennessee. Again, Kiffin demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the rules of football in complaining Bama should have been penalized and Tennessee given another opportunity to win a game that was over.

This week the SEC reacted.

No more letters of reprimand. Or as Kiffin called them in an insult to Slive, "meaningless" penalties.

Slive went to the bosses. In a unanimous vote of the Southeastern Conference's Athletic Directors and with the full support of the Conference's twelve Presidents and Chancellors, all violations of the SEC by-law regarding public criticism of officials will be enforced by suspensions and fines, effective immediately.

The length of the suspension and the amount of the fine will be at the discretion of the Commissioner.

SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 requires that coaches, assistant coaches, players, support personnel and others associated with the institution's athletics program refrain from public criticism of officials.

Head coaches are advised that suspensions and fines for violations of Bylaw 10.5.4 made by assistant coaches or other support personnel will be enforced against the head coach. That also goes to Tennessee, since Ed Orgeron, the failed head coach at Ole Miss who is now on the staff of the Vols, also publicly questioned the integrity of SEC officials last week.

"There are proper channels available for head coaches to use when communicating officiating concerns to the Conference office," said Slive.

As is customary practice, the conference office will continue to address reviews of officiating calls on specific plays with each institution's head coach and no public comments will be made concerning these communications.

Earlier this week, Saban was asked about criticism of officials. Although he did not address the specific violation of the rule by Kiffin, Saban said, "As a league, we're all in this together. We try to keep the spirit with our officials in a way that we want to help them do a better job. They have a tough job. They do a good job. I've been in other leagues and in bowl games (using officials from other conferences), and our officials do a marvelous job.

"Are they perfect? No. Do they make every call perfect? Probably not. None of us do. We don't either as coaches.

"But the spirit of making corrections should be done through the proper channels in the SEC office."

On several occasions Saban has been complimentary of the work of SEC Supervisor of Football Officials Rogers Redding. "He does a really good job," Saban said. "He takes the information we give him and uses it as teaching tools for his guys, for his crews.

"I think our league does a phenomenal job in every way. And I don't think there's a place to criticize publicly whether it's the schools, the officiating, or anything else. Because to me, we should all be trying to enhance our league and make it better. The strength of every one of us makes it what it is."

Being careful not to mention anyone specifically, Saban said, "That's the way we do our business here, that's the way we'll continue to do it, and I'm sure that's the way the league would like everybody to do it, because that's the best thing for our league. And we are good because we have a lot of coaches who have done that and doe it extremely well, and shown a tremendous amount of professionalism in everything they do in not only running their programs, but enhancing our league."

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