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The reason officiating sucks in the SEC


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I had forgotten that Kramer did this. Just another glowing ember of his legacy as conference commish. :puke:


Is it time for SEC crew cut?

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Times Sports Editor johnp@htimes.com

Former refs say biggest games deserve highest-rated officials

On a hot July day in 1990, Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer stood up at the conclusion of the league's annual three-day preseason clinic for football officials at SEC headquarters in Birmingham.

In the past, the commissioner's chat on similar occasions had been little more than a routine formality.

Not this time.

Several months earlier, the SEC presidents and chancellors had chosen Kramer, the athletic director at Vanderbilt University, to succeed Harvey Schiller as SEC commissioner.

Kramer had big plans. Already, he was thinking about such things as SEC expansion, new bowl tie-ins, bigger TV contracts, an SEC Championship Game and a new ranking system that would eventually evolve into the Bowl Championship Series. But one of his primary short-term goals, something that went largely unnoticed by the public at the time, was the elimination of the longtime merit system for SEC football officials.

For nearly three decades, every official in the conference - the referees, the umpires, the linesmen, the back judges, all the various positions - received a weekly grade. Under Schiller and his predecessor, Boyd McWhorter, each of the seven positions was graded 1-7 every week.

The top-rated officials at each position were assigned to the crew that worked the biggest game of that particular week - Alabama-Tennessee, for example, or Auburn-Alabama. The No. 2-ranked officials at each position were put together at the next-best game, and so on down the line. The only exception: No official could call a game involving his alma mater, or a game where a former teammate was coaching one of the teams.

It was a policy that went unchallenged for years. The officials liked it, the coaches liked it, the schools liked it.

Roy Kramer didn't like it.

At the clinic, he announced his decision. "We're going to go to a crew system in football,'' he said. "The same crews will stay together throughout the season.''

Vanderbilt, Kramer proclaimed, deserved to have the same quality of officiating as Alabama.

Bobby Gaston, who became the supervisor of SEC officials in 1989, begged the new commissioner to reconsider. Jimmy Harper, the league's premier referee, spoke out in ringing opposition, as did Jimmy Delaney and others.

They took a secret straw vote. It was 68-3 against the crew system. Kramer noted the vote, thanked the voters, and then said: "Gentlemen, we're going to have crews.''

And that was that.

An outcry of opposition

If anybody wondered who was in charge in the SEC office, Roy Kramer ended all doubt. But his decision to abolish the old ranking system and go to fixed crews did not sit well with many, perhaps most, of the veteran officials.

Even today, 14 years later, critics say the decision was at least partly responsible for many of the controversial SEC officiating calls in recent years.

"I didn't like it then and I don't like it now,'' said Harper, an Atlanta stockbroker who retired in 1996 at 62 after 33 years as an SEC official.

"When Alabama plays Tennessee, it's the No. 1 game of the week. It doesn't take a genius to see that. The Alabama-Tennessee game deserves to have the No. 1 official at each position at the game. That won't be the case this weekend in Knoxville.''

Al Ford, who owns his own insurance agency in Florence, was an SEC referee for 20 years before stepping down after the 2001 season. Among the former officials, none is more outspoken on the subject than Ford.

"The crew concept stinks,'' he said. "It's socialism. You've made every crew equal, which means you've got eight or nine crews with a mixture of quality instead of having four really good crews and four or five others coming on.

"All the older officials are against it,'' said Ford, who called many big games over the years: the Fiesta and Cotton bowls, an SEC Championship Game, four Iron Bowls, several Egg Bowls and several pairings of Georgia and Georgia Tech (including the one "we got crucified for,'' in his words - the 1999 game where a Georgia player was ruled to have fumbled into the end zone near the end of the game, and Tech went on to win in overtime).

"Some of the younger ones may like it because now they get in the great big ballgames a lot quicker,'' Ford said. "But they don't get to come up slowly through the ranks anymore, and that's unfair to them - and sometimes it's unfair to the schools, too.''

Bobby Skelton agrees. The former Alabama quarterback, who lives in Montgomery, was rated the best back judge in the SEC for 13 years, beginning in 1972, and went on to an acclaimed 17-year officiating career in the NFL.

"When I was calling the SEC, we were assigned games according to our abilities to officiate,'' Skelton said. "We started off working JV games, carrying the chain, working games like Chattanooga and Southern Miss, and finally we worked our way up. By golly, it was a good system.

"I think the crew system has some merits. When you're with the same guys every week, you get to know what everybody can and can't do. But at the same time, you want to make sure the best officials are at the biggest games. You're doing an injustice to both teams if you don't.''

Hootie Ingram, another former Alabama player who eventually became the athletic director there, supervised the football officials during much of the time he was SEC associate commissioner (1973-81).

Ingram was back at Alabama as the AD when Kramer decided to change the officiating system.

"I thought that was the biggest mistake they could've made,'' said Ingram, who is retired in Tuscaloosa. "Having seven guys working together every week might sound good on paper. But the problem is, they don't all have the same mechanics. It was better when we rated the officials. That allowed you to put the best officials at the biggest games.

"I agree that one game is just as important as another, but you may have a weekend where there might be only three conference games. The old way, you could put some of the best at each game.''

Tommy Lorino, who played at Auburn in the 1970s and was the No. 1-rated line judge for most of his 24 years as an SEC official, retired in 1998, mainly because he disliked the crew concept.

"My first 20 years or so, it was all done by ranking, one through seven at each position,'' Lorino said. "It was a good system. It worked.''

Going to crews changed all that, according to Lorino.

"When I got into the league, there was a chance to break in gradually and get some seasoning,'' he said. "We'd do two or three JV games a year. The next couple of years, you might work the chains, then the smaller games. Then in four of five years, you'd get to call a few SEC games. It might be seven years before you could count on getting the big-time games like Georgia-Tennessee or Alabama-Tennessee.

"Today's officials are at a disadvantage. Too often, they're thrown into the fire before they're ready. When I was coming along, we didn't have that disadvantage.''

Ray Moon, a broker in Birmingham, was a linesman in the SEC for 27 years before retiring after the 2000 season. He can see both sides.

"I liked it the old way,'' Moon said. "But to be honest, I enjoyed the crew system, too. I made a couple of lifelong buddies from being with the same guys every week. But I don't think the crew system made it better.

"If I had anything to do with it, I'd develop two or three really good crews and those would be the ones I'd stick with in the really big games. The way it is now, you have a smorgasbord. At any given game, you might have two or three really good officials, a couple of medium ones, and a couple who're still trying to get there.

"Of course, just because you're experienced doesn't mean you're always going to get it right,'' noted Moon. "That controversial call in this year's Tennessee-Florida game came from an experienced official.''

Jimmy Harper understands the point.

"Us old folks thought the crew system was wrong,'' Harper said. "They all want to go to the same thing as the NFL, and now just about every conference has crews. But the NFL's different. They have time to develop crews over a long period of time. It's not that way in college.

"In the SEC, Steve Shaw may be our No. 1 referee right now. But he may be working with, say, the No. 7 line judge, or the No. 5 back judge.

"In the old days, when we had a ranking list, a guy might be ranked No. 4 at his position and wonder why he wasn't moving up. He could go to a supervisor and ask why, and he'd get an answer. With crews, it's not that way anymore.''

"You've heard coaches say all big games are decided by six or eight plays,'' Al Ford said. "It's the same with officials. Big games come down to eight or 10 calls.

"Officials need to grow into their positions, just like ballplayers. There's some merit in the idea of having seven officials stay together and learn from each other. But in every crew in the SEC this year, there might be one or two new guys who're still feeling their way.

"Good officiating crews should have interchangeable parts. You should be able to plug in people who'll fit in any crew.''

SEC office stands firm

At the SEC office, current commissioner Mike Slive - who succeeded Kramer in the summer of 2002 - and Gaston, still the league's coordinator of officials, are familiar with all the arguments. They're nothing new.

They know the public perception is that SEC officiating has deteriorated in recent years. They've seen the TV replays, heard the feigned outrage from the commentators and analysts, read the nasty e-mails.

They're keenly aware that many of the former officials, and some of the present officials, firmly believe Kramer's decision to junk the rankings and go to crews was the catalyst to many of today's officiating mistakes - some of which have been readily acknowledged.

But neither Slive nor Gaston believes in turning back the clock.

"I was against the crew system at first,'' Gaston admits. "But now I'm a convert. I think it's better. Today's officials are much better trained than when I was coming up, and it's not even close.

"Originally, I was opposed to crews. But I think if you took a vote of the officials now, 95 percent would be in favor.''

"Our officiating is as good or better than it has ever been over the years,'' Slive said. "Sure, we've had a couple of errors - highly publicized errors - that have caused a lot of talk and brought on a lot of controversy. When those things happen, a lot of emotion comes into play and it's sometimes hard to objectively evaluate the situation.

"But as a whole, our officiating compares very, very favorably with anybody's in the country. Our officials spent a lot of time preparing for calling games played at the highest level, and they rank right at the top. Not to say we're perfect. Who is? But I'll say this: We like our guys.''

To Gaston's way of thinking, there's much to like.

The SEC currently has 58 full-time officials and 30 on a supplemental list. There are eight full-time crews. Each crew is rated weekly by trained observers. Each receives weekly evaluations.

At every game, an SEC observer meets with the crew, going over what happened a week earlier and trying to anticipate what might happen this week.

"Today's officials put so much more into studying and conditioning and preparation than any of us ever did before,'' Gaston said. "The average fan just has no idea.

"If you factored in how much they get paid compared to how many hours in the year that they put into it, they'd understand these guys could make a lot more money flipping burgers at a fast-food joint.''

Coming Friday: The past, present and future of SEC officiating.

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thats really fascinating.....you know what, as much as i have followed the game ,for many more years than i like to think about, i did not know that there was a merit system before the crew system....this could explain why the officiating is down right horrible in almost every game that you watch.....hummmmm......a little story for you.....i have a friend,ex-marine corp officer, who call high school football games.....he has nothing but glowing reports from anyone who is involved with his games.....he wants to call SEC games someday,and from all accounts,would be a good official.....he is, by the way, one of only a handful of bammer fans that i will associate with......big,tall and really athletic guy without a dishonest bone in his body.....he told me that the SEC was a good-ole-boy fraternity and he could not even get a toe in the door.....he has criticized SEC officiating for as long as i have known him and has made the statement that he can get several high school officials who are much more competent than the boys doing the SEC games.......makes me wonder sometimes about the statement "strange things happen on the way to tuscaloosa" old SEC coaches used to say when bryant was coaching over there.....i agree, SEC officiating is as bad,or worse than any in the nation

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Well, if they have to use the crew system, the crews should be rated and assigned to the games based on merit. I don't know if that would solve the problem, but it sure couldn't hurt. SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE with SEC officials and it may take a thorough house cleaning, from the top down, to make it happen.

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I've never wanted to be on the "Hate Kramer" bandwagon with all the Bamafans, but now I've finally found a good reason to be critical of Kramer.

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I thought it was our fault???

:roflol:   :bs:



Weren't UT officials on the Plaza in Dallas in '63? :D

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Boys and girls, I read that article earlier today...and I agree with it somewhat. But let me tell you this...I have been watching SEC football since the 50's, and SEC officiating HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE WORST, this side of the NHL. And that's a FACT! :au::puke:

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I'm not going to bash Kramer on this, either. Theoretically, the crew system should work. When the same crew is officiating games over time they should be familiar enough with each member and function together much like a team that's been playing together for a long time. To carry the team analogy a little further, I've seen some All-Star teams thrown together that haven't always performed to expectations (e.g. Olympic Mens Basketball, 2004, for one.) What we don't know is the detailed evaluation that goes on after each game and if any changes are made to the crew/personnel as a result (i.e. additional training, demotions, promotions, etc.) The article alluded to this happening but didn't go into it. If the system is truly closed as tombigbee's HS referee buddy says, then shame on Bobby Gaston, not Kramer.

The hand-picked officials system has it's own drawbacks as well: cronyism & collusion among them. The article said that, "... Hootie Ingram, another former Alabama player who eventually became the athletic director there, supervised the football officials during much of the time he was SEC associate commissioner (1973-81). ..." Well, isn't that special? Let's see, a former uat player supervised the hand picking of officials for all the "big games" -- all coincidentlally during uat's greatest decade. I wonder what Hootie Ingram thought of the Bear, and if he would do anything for him like most former players?

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