Handling The Officiating Issue The Right Way

Phillip Marshall writes about the officiating in SEC football and this weekend's games.

Kudos to Florida coach Ron Zook. His team was literally cheated out of a victory over Tennessee last Saturday. He addressed it, stood up for his players and moved on. LSU coach Nick Saban could learn some lessons from him.

Saban's team was victimized by a rule he doesn't like. Good rule or bad, there is no question the call that gave Auburn a second chance at the game-winning extra point was a good one. In an attempt to block the kick, Ronnie Prude launched himself into the air and over the line of scrimmage. He came down on snapper Pete Compton. That's a personal foul, pure and simple. Saban has spent more time whining than he has looking ahead to Saturday's game against Mississippi State.

Interestingly enough, Saban didn't address the facemask call that led to LSU's field goal. Junior Rosegreen was called not only for grabbing the facemask, but for a 15-yard facemask penalty. The tape showed he had a double handful of jersey, never coming close to the facemask.

All LSU had to do to win the game was make a stop on fourth-and-12. It couldn't do it.

The Florida-Tennessee debacle once again thrust Southeastern Conference officials into the spotlight. How does an official, standing just a few feet away and looking directly at the action, call a personal foul on Florida when a Tennessee player slaps a Florida player and the Florida player slaps back? How is he not aware enough to start the clock when it should be started?

Millions watching on TV learned what those of us who follow SEC football have known for several years now. The officiating is horrendous.

I honestly don't believe it would be that difficult to fix. If I were in charge of the SEC (fat chance!), here's what I would do: Hire the No. 1 officiating expert in the country, whoever that is, and make him a fulltime SEC employee.

Go to the presidents and urge them to put up $500,000 more a year, a mere drop in the bucket for the filthy rich league, to hire and train officials. I would do a nationwide search to get the best officials available calling SEC games. Once the officials were hired, I would tell them they'd better never, ever call a penalty for a foul that didn't happen. Fouls are going to be missed, but assessing penalties for phantom fouls is unacceptable. I'd tell them the first time would bring a warning. If it happened again, I would assume they were either incompetent or having hallucinations and didn't need to be officiating SEC football games. Putting it simply, call what you see happen, not what you think happened.

I would urge the NCAA to convene a national meeting to define holding. I would define it and tell the officials to call it every time they see it. Would there be a lot of holding calls? There would be for a game or two until coaches and players figured it out.

If the SEC would do those things, the officiating crisis would be over. As it stands now, it gets worse all the time. Even before conference play started, SEC officials embarrassed the league with a show of incompetence in USC's game against Virginia Tech. They'll do it again before the season is over.

BITS AND PIECES

My guess is that LSU has some more rough days ahead. The Bayou Bengals will beat Mississippi State like a stray dog Saturday, but after that, they have back-to-back trips to Georgia and Florida …

The races in both the SEC West and East could be interesting. Auburn emerges as the favorite in the West after beating LSU 10-9, but only Ole Miss and Mississippi State would appear to be clearly out of the running. Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are serious threats in the East, though Georgia needs to find a spark on offense …

Don't be surprised if Alabama upsets Arkansas on Saturday. The Razorbacks gave up more than 300 yards passing and 20 points to Louisiana-Monroe, which would certainly seem to indicate they have pass defense problems …

SEC PICKS
Auburn 63, The Citadel 0; Alabama 27, Arkansas 24; Florida 31, Kentucky 14; LSU 28, Mississippi State 7; Ole Miss 23, Wyoming 21; South Carolina 20, Troy 6; Tennessee 42, Louisiana Tech 14; Navy 21, Vanderbilt 17.

Last week's record: 5-2. Overall record: 17-6.


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