Conference Foul: Southeastern Conference. Immense Shame for All

*Full disclosure: The author is a Penn State fan who is still a little cranky/bitter over the officiating for the PSU/Auburn game.*


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Saturdays in the Fall are supposed to be celebrations of college football traditions. But, every once in a while, college football games are marred by...how to put this kindly... sub-par officiating. This Saturday was one such occasion. This weekend, the Southeastern Conference has to issue two formal statements acknowledging their officiating crews made some pretty egregious errors. In one case, they potentially cost their conference member a victory.


Photo Credit: GettyImages


We start with the Memphis Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs. Late in the fourth quarter, with Memphis leading 21-17, the Bulldogs tried to play a field position game by punting 4th and six from midfield. After a masterful punt, two Bulldog defenders made contact with the ball, trying to down the punt at the 6-yard line. One official waved the play dead. However, since neither player possessed the ball or brought it to rest, the Memphis return man scooped up the ball and proceeded to return it 94 yards for a touchdown. Mississippi State went on to lose the game 31-29. After the game, the SEC tweeted that while the return was legal - since neither defender possessed the ball or caused it to come to rest - the play could have and should have been overturned on review since the official had called a dead ball after the defenders touched the ball.


Photo Credit: GettyImages


Next, we go to Penn State vs. Auburn. This game featured a match-up between two top 25 ranked teams under the lights in Beaver Stadium in prime-time. Unfortunately, the SEC crew assigned to referee the game did not live up to the big stage. Before we go further, this author will reiterate his bias opinion and belief there were multiple errors, but such is the life of any general fan. The difference here is the SEC admitted to their crew's errors.


With the Auburn Tigers leading the Penn State Nittany Lions 10-7 in the second quarter, the officials penalized Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford for intentionally grounding after Penn State's first down play. But just putting that in words is a bit unfair. On the play, Clifford dropped back to pass and threw approximately 30 yards downfield to...well, no one. The receiver ran the wrong route (or maybe Clifford thought he was running a different route, we may never know). The ball fell harmlessly to the turf with no receiver near the play. In a shocking turn of events, the officials threw a penalty flag for intentional grounding. By the absolute strictest interpretation of the rules, it was an accurate call since Clifford was inside the tackle box, and there was no receiver in the area of the throw. However, I defy anyone to find another instance of such a play drawing an intentional grounding penalty.


Unfortunately for Penn State, the bizarre flag was only the beginning of the comedy of errors. Intentional grounding brings with it an automatic loss of down. Since the penalty occurred on 1st down, that meant it should have been 2nd and 16. Well, the officiating crew decided it was actually 3rd down instead of 2nd down because...reasons. Penn State ran another play and ended punting on what was 3rd down, but the officials did not realize this mistake until the next media timeout, at which time it was too late to correct the error.




Once again, the SEC had to issue a statement acknowledging their officiating crew made a pretty big screw up. Penn State head coach, James Franklin, was not amused. Penn State went on to win the game 28-20, despite the officials' best efforts.


To recap, SEC officiating crews ended up costing one of their conference members a victory and caused a punt on 3rd down during a prime time game. This weekend could have been an excellent stage for one of college football's primer conferences to showcase not only the talent of their teams but the skills of their officiating crews. But, instead, the officiating fell incredibly flat. Admittedly, any fan who watches any game always has gripes with the officiating. But, when the governing body of the officials admits they messed up not once, but twice on the same day, once in prime time, perhaps it's time to step back and say "be better."


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