SEC Suspends Officiating Crew

FAYETTEVILLE — The Southeastern Conference officiating crew under fire for its performance during Florida's 23-20 win against Arkansas has now been suspended by the league.

The SEC announced Wednesday that the crew — led by referee Marc Curles — has been pulled from its next assignment on Oct. 31 and will not be permitted to work together as a group until Nov. 14.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a press release that action was taken because a "series of calls" made by the crew the past couple of weeks has not been up to the league's standards.

"I believe our officiating program is the best in the country, however, there are times when these actions must be taken," Slive said in the release.

The suspended crew made several questionable decisions in Saturday's game. The most noteable was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard. It was one of two defensive penalties on Florida's game-tying touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter.

The SEC announced Monday that it found no video evidence to support the personal foul penalty called on Sheppard. The league said any other calls were deemed "judgment calls" and a review of the those decisions were "communicated to Arkansas."

Two weeks ago, the SEC also admitted Curles and his crew made a late-game mistake in LSU's win at Georgia. Bulldogs receiver A.J. Green was wrongly penalized for excessive celebration after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"While only a few calls have been identified, the entire crew shoulders responsibility for each play," Slive said. "I have taken this action because there must be accountability in our officiating program."

Curles — who threw the flag against Sheppard on Saturday — spoke to ESPN.com on Wednesday and blamed himself for that error.

"I understand people are passionate about their teams," Curles told ESPN.com. "Like I said, we sign up for this. I admit I made a mistake in this ballgame. I deserve a little bit of people getting on me. I am getting on myself."

The suspension appears to have set a precedent in the league, too. SEC spokesperson Charles Bloom said in an e-mail Wednesday "a crew has been suspended before, but not in a public manner."

The questionable calls also could impact the crew's eligibilty for postseason bowl assignments, the SEC said. But the suspension doesn't necessarily mean crew members won't work until Nov. 14. Bloom said league procedure dictates that someone "could fill in to another crew if needed" during that stretch.

Either way, Arkansas' complaints over the officiating were supported by the SEC's decision. But Coach Bobby Petrino indicated in a statement Wednesday that the Hogs have moved on to Ole Miss.

"We took the appropriate steps to address any issues we had with the league regarding this matter earlier in the week," Petrino said in the statement. "Our focus as a football team has been and remains on this weekend's game against Ole Miss."

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long echoed Petrino by posting a message on Twitter shortly after the SEC announced its decision to suspend the officials.

"I respect Comish Slive for the action he took (Wednesday), I appreciate his leadership. We have moved on, focused on Ole Miss," Long wrote.

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