SEC commissioner Greg Sankey could read the room. And he knew a statement from the leader of the nation’s most revered football conference was appropriate.
It was hard to ignore the buzz in the days following a Florida-South Carolina game that ended in the Gators favor after a series of questionable calls that went against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, who was visibly livid on the sidelines during the second half in Columbia on Saturday, was vocal in his post-game displeasure.
Holding calls were missed. Pass interference calls were botched. And in an era where each play is critiqued 11 times via slow-motion instant replay on high-definition televisions across the nation, that’s bound to cause issues.
Sankey decided to address the public’s growing displeasure with his football officials with a well-crafted release on Wednesday afternoon.
Greg Sankey’s official statement via SECSports.com:
In his book, Gridiron Genius, NFL executive, analyst and author Michael Lombardi offers this summary of football, “After is all said and done, football is really a game of surprises.”
And yet, in this game of surprises, we ask for perfection.
Perfection from our coaches and student-athletes, and perfection from the game officials who are called upon to instantly apply the rules in real time on every play.
The Southeastern Conference is entrusted with supporting an officiating program that is responsible for calling the games of our member schools. We take this duty most seriously.
We view perfection as our desired goal while also understanding it will always be an elusive standard in a game that is filled with surprises. And we are disappointed when we don’t get it right. Because our goal is to get it right, every time.
While officials have always faced scrutiny, the effect has been intensified in recent years with the evolution of high-definition televisions and the ability to view super slow-motion replays from multiple angles on screens of all sizes and via replays shown on monster, crystal clear in-stadium video boards.
The rules of football permit us to utilize modern technologies to review some, but not all, officiating calls. And while some calls are overturned, we know from our extensive review of all game films that our officials get the call right in the vast, vast majority of situations. SEC Football Officials are dedicated to their work and approach each game with integrity and focus on fairly administering the competition.
But mistakes occur, and when errors happen, the next questions are, “What happens now? Where is the accountability?”
SEC officials are held accountable for the overall body of their work and the work of their officiating crew, which is reviewed on a weekly basis throughout the season and on an annual basis.
Ongoing performance evaluations are used to determine game assignments, postseason assignments, compensation levels and ultimately, whether an official is invited to return for the following season. You can learn more here.
In addition, during the season, officials’ assignments may be altered based on in-season performance. By protocol, the SEC does not publicly announce these assignment changes.
SEC Bylaws require that coaches and administrators refrain from public criticism of officials, as well as making public comments about any specific communications with the Conference office related to officiating. This is a bylaw that was enacted by unanimous vote of the SEC’s member institutions and it is the responsibility of the Conference office to enforce this bylaw by use of private or public reprimands, fines or suspensions.
Although the Conference office does not publicly communicate about personnel actions and school personnel are restricted in their comments about officiating, we did decide in the offseason to be more intentional in communicating other matters about the officiating process to all of our audiences:
- We invited national media to participate as guest officials at a spring football game. You can find their perspectives on their officiating experiences in stories linked here.
- We launched a website — www.secsports.com/officiating — to provide background on SEC officiating, including an in-depth look at how we recruit, train, assign and evaluate SEC officials.
- We created a Twitter account — @SECOfficiating — to educate and inform fans about our officiating program. We view it as a tool for additional perspective on officiating and rules applications, but as I said at SEC Media Days in July, we have no intention of tweeting all day on Saturdays about individual calls.
- Veteran SEC official Matt Austin moved into the TV studio to offer expert analysis and rules interpretations in real-time on game days. Matt is not an employee of the SEC and is able to provide his independent perspective through various ESPN platforms, but primarily through the SEC Network. The SEC is the only conference to have an officiating analyst specifically assigned to its conference network.
- The SEC Network produced educational episodes of SEC Film Room featuring SEC Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw and host Matt Stinchcomb to analyze key plays and rule changes prior to the 2019 season. These episodes can be found here.
- A portion of the October 15 episode of SEC Inside on the SEC Network was dedicated to a day in the life of an SEC officiating crew.
I hope you will take advantage of these resources to gain a better understanding about the SEC Officiating program as we all continue to seek elusive perfection in this game of surprises that we love — college football.