SEC, Kramer Making A Mess

Columnist Phillip Marshall has some strong opinions about how the Southeastern Conference is being managed and takes a look at the football and basketball Tigers.

From the safety of the sideline, Auburn's basketball team looks to be a team on the fast track to nowhere.

The Tigers have struggled to beat no-name teams at home, even losing to Louisiana Tech. They lost by a point at Rutgers, considered by some the weakest team in the Big East. Despite a recruiting class ranked among the nation's best and three returning starters, Auburn has looked like anything but a contender as it prepares for Saturday's game against No. 8 Virginia.

Of course, based on the few people who have found their way to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum to watch, Auburn fans aren't paying a lot of attention anyway. It's a rebuilding year, it would seem. But in the words of a not so beloved losing football coach turned sportscaster, not so fast my friend. At least that's the way assistant head coach Shannon Weaver sees it.

"You have to be careful about how you judge," Weaver says. "If we were going to play the conference season or an NCAA Tournament right now, we'd be doing some things differently. We are really in a preconference mode, seeing what works and what doesn't."

One thing that hasn't worked is the point guard position. When Jamison Brewer bolted for the NBA last spring, Auburn's coaches were caught by surprise. It was too late to recruit a similar replacement. Junior Marquis Daniels and freshman Dwayne Mitchell have been forced to play an unfamiliar position. They'll get some relief after Saturday's game. Senior Lincoln Glass, academically ineligible until semester's end, will return. "That's going to make a big difference," Weaver says. "When we get Lincoln back, that's another piece to the puzzle. You are seeing a work in progress. I think we can be a very good team, but we had to go through this."

Those are encouraging words, but it remains to be seen. Even with a core of talented veterans to go with the even more talented newcomers, Auburn had to hang on for dear life to beat High Point and McNeese State. Does a point guard mean that much?

Time will tell.

SEC OFFICE MAKES A MESS

Roy Kramer has done a lot of terrific things in his tenure as Southeastern Conference commissioner. But he and his office have made a huge mess of this season's bowls. There are nine SEC teams eligible for bowls. It's been obvious since Alabama beat Auburn that would be the case. One team, a deserving one, is going to stay home.

Don't be deceived by the written rules of bowl selections. The SEC office has everything to say about what happens. It gave Alabama, at 6-5 the only one of the nine with fewer than seven wins, the go-ahead to cut a deal with the Music City Bowl. If Tennessee beats LSU in the championship game as expected, Ole Miss will sit home. That's the same Ole Miss team that had a 7-4 record and beat Alabama. If LSU upsets Tennessee, then who knows what will happen. Ole Miss could still stay home. Auburn could stay home, though that doesn't seem as likely as it did earlier in the week.

Kramer could have avoided all this. The Seattle Bowl, which took Georgia Tech, or the Humanitarian Bowl, which took Clemson, surely would have been overjoyed at the possibility of having Alabama. They weren't interested in Ole Miss. Why not send Alabama to one of those bowls and send Ole Miss to the Music City Bowl? Makes too much sense, I guess.

It's not just bowl games that have people questioning the SEC office. It's far past time for Kramer or someone to do something about the distressing level of officiating in the league. Gone are the days when the late Gordon Pettus was in charge of a group of officials that were envied nationwide. Pettus' philosophy was simple: Let the players determine the outcome of the game. Some of today's SEC officials, it would seem, want to be part of the show.

Much has been made of Auburn getting a 15-yard penalty because a few players jumped up and down on the tiger eye logo at midfield at LSU. More should be made of an official who had the poor judgment to call a 15-yard penalty on the opening kickoff in a game that would decide a championship.

LSU kicked onsides from midfield, got it and quickly scored to take a 7-0 lead. The 15-yard penalty, it could be argued, was the biggest play in LSU's 27-14 victory. It is made all the more absurd by the fact that many teams, including Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium, have done the same thing in a much more orchestrated manner without penalty.

And while I'm on this soapbox, why aren't officials held publicly accountable when they make mistakes? Coaches are publicly reprimanded when they criticize officials. Why doesn't the league office make it public when officials blatantly miss calls?

Potpourri:

*For those who worry about such things, Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville says the Tigers' late-season swoon has had no negative impact on recruiting.

*Kudos to offensive tackle Kendall Simmons for winning the Jacobs Blocking Award. Simmons is a great player headed for a big payday in the NFL. More importantly, he's a class act on and off the field.

*The message to quarterback Daniel Cobb was loud and clear. When Auburn coaches wanted to let Jason Campbell watch a series from the sideline, they went to Jeff Klein, who had not played a snap all season. The message? Campbell will be the starting quarterback next season. Cobb can petition for a sixth year, but the guess here is he won't bother.

*It's been almost comical reading the Internet posts and hearing clueless talk show hosts refer to Auburn players as out of control, thugs, classless and worse. Does jumping up and down on a logo make one a thug? I don't think so. And anyone who would label kicker Damon Duval, who almost got into an altercation with a trombone player, a thug is so far off base it's ridiculous. Duval is an outstanding student and an outstanding young man.

Those who would call players from Auburn, Alabama or anywhere else thugs without knowing them or knowing anything about the way they live their lives ought to be ashamed. They are about as well-informed as those who would say players who work incredibly hard year-around didn't try in a game they lost.

Those who whine the loudest ought to go to any college campus on virtually any day of the year and see what players go through just to be able to go out and play 11 games in the fall. They'd probably have a different view of things.

I guess that's enough preaching for one day. Until next time...


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