UPDATE: This issue has reared its head again this year (2010). Check out Terrible Officiating in Auburn-Arkansas Game.
Last Year: Whether SEC referees are favoring the top 2 football teams in the conference this season has become a hot topic of controversy.
Personally, I don't think the officials calling the games are -- at least not intentionally. Being a ref in these high-speed; high pressure games is tough. The players are big, strong and fast. Things happen fast and quick calls have to be made. Refs are human, mistakes are going to be made. That's to be expected.
But it does seem there have been a number of blown calls this year in Alabama and Florida games and virtually all of them seem to have gone the way of the favored Alabama Crimson Tide or Florida Gators. Is that coincidence or something else?
Off the top of my head I can recall very questionable, if not outright bad, calls in the Florida - Arkansas and Florida - Mississippi State games. Similarly, controversial calls were made in the Alabama - Tennessee and Alabama - LSU games. I'm sure there have been others as well. And, they all seem to have gone in favor of Alabama and Florida.
The sinister motive ascribed to the refs by some is that somehow the mightly SEC has determined that it is financially beneficial if its top teams continue to win and march their way to BCS bowl games, including the BCS National Championship game. You can read about the financial benefits to the major college football conferences of getting BCS bowl bids at BCS Controversy.
Anyway, the inference is that somehow the Southeastern Conference "powers that be" have communicated to the SEC paid refs that they should do what's needed to ensure Bama and Florida win -- if possible.
That seems very far-fetched and unlikely to me.
However, a much more reasonable explanation involves human nature. That is that refs come into the games with the mindset that Alabama and Florida are the better teams. In fact, this is a reasonable thing to think. Certainly, the odds makers agree.
And, so, subconsciously the referees are affected by that preconceived mindset to assume in close calls -- when the call is not clear -- that it's more likely than not that the Alabama or Florida player should get the call.
Also, most of these games (with the exception of Mississippi State) have been played at Florida Field or Bryant-Denny. Thus, again, a natural home-field advantage, ref reluctance to call against the home team could also play a role.
Anyway, it's certainly not clear what, if anything, in particular is "going on" or "needs to be done." Maybe nothing; maybe something. Favoritism?
One thing for sure -- it would be really, really good if some close calls could go the underdog's way over the next few weeks.
Here are some comments that have been made by SEC Sports Fans about particular SEC Referee Bias Issues. You'll see a bunch of them about the controversial Arkansas - Florida game.
[Besides the bad calls, we also have the issues that sprung from them -- like the "Kiffin Rule" that now the SEC says it has zero tolerance for criticism of refs. This rule resulted from Lane Kiffin's criticism of the officiating in the Tennessee - Alabama game. Other coaches have made similar critical comments of SEC officiating -- including Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and Miss. State coach Dan Mullen. Now, any criticism by any coach or member of an SEC football team staff -- will result in an automatic fine and/or suspension. In fact a fine was already handed out to Florida coach Urban Meyer. Is the SEC too overbearing?]
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