Now that's a response.
The SEC has suspended the crew that officiated Saturday's Florida-Arkansas game until Nov. 14. The crew, which also was responsible for a controversial excessive celebration call at the end of the LSU-Georgia game on Oct. 3, will miss three games. In a release, the league also said the disciplinary action would affect the crew's eligibility for postseason assignments. The league will assign other SEC officials to games the crew would have worked.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in the release that "a series of calls that have occurred in the last several weeks have not been to the standard that we expect from our officiating crews." Slive didn't name a particular official but instead blamed the entire crew. "While only a few calls have been identified, the entire crew shoulders responsibility for each play. I have taken this action because there must be accountability in our officiating program," Slive said. "Our institutions expect the highest level of officiating in all of our sports and it is the duty of the conference office to uphold that expectation."
This isn't the first time the SEC has suspended a crew. It is the first time the league has announced the decision. Slive, a former judge and attorney who came to the SEC from Conference USA in 2002, didn't become the most powerful man in college sports by accident. He has a television. He has a computer. He knew the very integrity of his conference was at stake, and he knew he had to act decisively.
Between the celebration call two weeks earlier and the series of questionable calls that helped the undefeated Gators eek out a 23-20 win against the Razorbacks, the tinfoil hat crowd had plenty of ammunition to paint a picture of a conspiracy to keep LSU undefeated before it faced Florida on Oct. 10 and to keep the Gators winning to set up an SEC championship game between a 12-0 Florida and a 12-0 Alabama that - thanks to the marketing muscle the SEC received from its new 15-year, $2.25 billion contract with ESPN - might just make the universe collapse into itself. The conspiracy theories are pure hogwash, but Slive knows perception is reality, and some of the crew's calls Saturday made for a pretty ugly reality.
A pass interference call against Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway during Florida's game-tying fourth-quarter drive probably could have gone either way, but when combined with an earlier no-call of what probably should have been an offensive pass interference penalty against Florida receiver Riley Cooper, it looks fishy. The most damning call, however, went against Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard during that same game-tying drive. Sheppard was flagged for a personal foul after he delivered a clean hit to Florida offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert, who was trying to block Sheppard during a play. Tuesday, I called the penalty one of the worst calls in the history of modern football. My opinion hasn't changed.
In that same Tuesday piece, I called for the league to identify and punish the official who threw the flag on Sheppard. Looking back, that probably was a mistake. Some SEC fans have threatened my life by e-mail for dropping their team in my power rankings. Lord knows what some whacko might do to an official he thinks cost his team a game. Slive's punishment is far more appropriate and more severe than I ever imagined.
The former judge had to slam his gavel hard in this case, though. This officiating crew, through its own incompetence, had allowed the integrity of the entire conference to be called into question. Looking at it from that perspective, these particular zebras are lucky Slive didn't permanently remove their stripes.