Visit an LSU message board today and you can feel the anger engulf you the second you enter. Leave it to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and his staff to cast a cloud over what's arguably the best season for the conference in 30 years. Instead of celebrating a massive new television contract and two conference members at the top of the polls, officials are having to fight off allegations of corruption.
In what's been a string of bad calls by SEC officiating crews this season, Slive finds himself again fighting back accusations that league officials are trying to protect Florida and Alabama as they march ever closer to a showdown in the SEC Championship Game.
The latest controversy came in the fourth quarter of Saturday's marquee matchup between Alabama and LSU. With 5:54 to play in the game, an LSU defender stepped in front of Alabama wideout Julio Jones and made what appeared to be an interception. It would have given the Tigers the ball at their 37 with a chance to win the game, trailing by only six points.
Instead, despite numerous replay angles that clearly show the interception was in-bounds, officials upstairs ruled the defender did not have one foot inbounds. The call changed the complexion of the game and denied LSU a chance to win.
Today, the fallout has already started. College football writer Matt Hayes of The Sporting News had this to say in his column this morning:
Mike Slive may fine me for this, but here goes. How can it come to this? How can college football's best conference -- the best players, the best coaches, the best of everything -- continue to be subjected to brutally poor officiating?
Alabama beat LSU 24-15 in the best game of the season to date, and all we'll remember is a blown call from a replay official late in the fourth quarter that changed everything. Instead of celebrating a big win for No. 3 Alabama and looking forward to the SEC championship game against No.1 Florida next month, we're left with this:
"Speculation," said LSU coach Les Miles, "is rampant."
Hayes didn't stop there. He went on to say:
Since Miles won't say anything, I will. This is beyond bad officiating. It's so undeniably awful, I'm beginning to believe conspiracy nuts who claim the SEC is protecting its heavyweight teams (Florida and Alabama) since, you know, every poor call in the last month has involved, uh, Florida and Alabama.
The fact I write for Track'em Tigers will immediately discount me in the eyes of the Alabama nation. But this is not about Alabama. It's about a perception among fans - now nationally - that league officials are less than honest. That's a problem for everyone.
I believe it's a mistake to take anything away from Alabama. Had the interception stood, LSU would still have had to march more than 60 yards for the win. Against that Alabama defense, the odds would have been long. If I were a betting man, my money would have remained on Alabama.
LSU fans are wrong to say it cost them the game. It cost them a chance at the win. Nothing more. Unfortunately, that's enough to cast a cloud over the two best teams in the conference this season, Alabama and Florida. And because of that, these two schools are as much victims as the ones who were wronged by bad calls.
It's time for Slive to make a major overhaul of the conference's officiating process. It's a group of officials that unfortunately is not near as talented and disciplined as the teams they are trying to help.
All eyes are on you Mr. Slive.