Rogers Redding doesn’t fly a black helicopter.

As you can tell from the length of my blogroll, there are lots of terrific college football blogs out there.  But there are only a few bloggers whose posts I tend to approach with a sense of awe because of the obvious depth and effort they put into them.

One of those is Ed Gunther, whose The National Championship Issue deserves to be on your must read list.  In Ed’s latest offering, he takes a look at a subject that’s been poked and prodded here and elsewhere – questionable officiating – and decides to break it down to see if there’s any substance to the oft-repeated feeling that there’s something purposeful behind the bad calls.

And when I say “break it down”, I mean break it down.

… we’re looking at 2000-2008, which means 6,761 games. Two teams per game gives us 13,522 team-games…

That’s right – he looked at the penalty numbers from that many games.  Specifically, he looked for a pattern of irregularity from the perspective of home team calls and higher ranked team calls.  And what did he find with all that sifting?  Not very much:

Home / Away Penalties & Yards
category games avg penalties avg pen yards more penalties more %
Home (averages) 6,029 6.3 53.8 2,362 40.1%
Away (averages) 6,059 6.6 54.6 2,855 48.5%
Home (outliers) 356 9.3 87.9 243 49.2%
Away (averages) 326 9.9 85.7 238 48.2%

Hmmm… it doesn’t appear that there’s any significant difference. The home team has a slight edge in the first few columns, but nothing irregular. Something notable is that in the average games, the home team usually takes less penalties, taking more than their visitor just 40.1% of the time. However, when we’re looking at the outliers, the home team takes more penalties a higher percentage of the time, 49.2% to 48.2%. This could be due to the fact that in the average population there’s more visiting team-games and in the outliers there’s more home team-games, but the difference is pretty small. Overall, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence here for the home team having a significant edge penalty-wise.

Let’s look at something else. What about any advantage given to the higher-ranked team?

Penalties & AP Rankings
category All Games Average Games Outlier Games
neither team ranked 5,596 5,286 310
same # of penalties 1,460 1,425 35
higher ranked, more penalties 3,372 3,157 215
higher more % 52.2% 51.9% 56.6%
higher ranked, less penalties 3,088 2,923 165
higher less % 47.8% 48.1% 43.4%

Well, if anything it seems that overall, the higher ranked team usually takes more penalties, and that’s especially the case in the outliers. Interesting.

When you measure that along with something Matt Hinton’s shown repeatedly – namely, that penalties are a relatively insignificant factor in a team’s success – there’s not much there there.

Admittedly, we’ve got a second issue in play here, that of perception.  Not in the perception-equals-reality sense, but more in the Nick Saban-we-don’t-have-time-for-this-shit sense.  Why let this stuff fester, after all?  What do people like Mike Slive gain from having to devote repeated attention to damage control over this?  Given the resources at college football’s disposal, along with the relatively little effort it would take to address some of the more egregious occurrences (assuming that people like Rogers Redding could be made to care, of course), there are a few obvious steps that could be taken to address the common concerns being raised.

Ed’s got a few good suggestions about those:

Do they get a call wrong every now and then? Sure. But a lot of those can easily be avoided with the use of instant replay. Sure, some calls are subjective, like holding or interference. The referees have training and years of experience calling those plays – as long as they’re consistent, I see no reason not to trust them and defer to their judgment in those cases. For situations like the Georgia-LSU celebration penalties, I think the refs are handcuffed by overbearing rules that are trying to damper down the spirit of competition.

But for the non-subjective determinations, like going out-of-bounds or the ball hitting the ground on an attempted shoe-string catch, use instant replay. Get a donor to give your school money for some LCD high-def TV’s, put them in the booth, and use them. Talk to the networks and make them put cameras in more strategic locations so that you can give the guys in the booth the best angles to see the plays – shoot them down the sidelines and endzones, if nothing else. The college game gets it right by reviewing every play. (The NFL knows that would lengthen their games past the mandated 3 hours, so fairness has to take a back seat.) Do whatever it takes to get the call right. I don’t want to hear any crap about the refs being human or bad calls being a part of the game. For subjective calls, fine – I can accept that. But with so much riding on games nowadays, the NCAA, conferences, and schools need to be doing all they can to make sure that the black & white calls are correct. Fans won’t care if it adds an extra 15 minutes to the games, or if a booth review takes a while. Just Get. The Call. Right. They’ll care a whole lot more if you get the call wrong, trust me. Those are things that people besides the refs can fix, so if anything you should be just as pissed at them for letting these things slide.

I think that’s right.  For the most part, it’s not the refs that should have the heat directed at them – it’s the enablers, like the aforementioned Mr. Redding, who are far more concerned about appearance and ass-covering than they are with getting things right for the satisfaction of the fans, players and coaches, who should be getting grief.  But when you’ve got conference commissioners who appear more focused on enforcing gag rules rather than making every effort to see that officials can do their jobs with the least amount of trouble, it’s hard to see much headway being made, at least for now.

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17 Comments

Filed under College Football, Stats Geek!

17 responses to “Rogers Redding doesn’t fly a black helicopter.

  1. rbubp

    I think the “it’s one continuous playoff” nature of college football also contributes. A game between Florida and Arkansas does mean a lot more this way, and that can be a double-edged sword.

    Thanks for the analysis.

  2. Knowledge

    The problem does not lie in the aggregate. It is in the one errant call that changes the game. These stats do not address that bias.

    • Bulldog Bry

      So true. If momentum is truly a game changer, then there’s no way to quantify that in stats. Everything after the bad call has a different outcome.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The problem is situational. It is when the call impacts the outcome of the game like the bogus celebration call in the LSU-UGA game, repeated flags that basically give a team a tying TD like the the FLA- ARK game, or a call that takes away the chance to win at the end, like the blown interception call in the LSU- BAMA game. Those do not show up in a study like Gunther’s. Also, the notorious “make-up” call obscures an analysis like Gunther’s. Basically, this analysis is worthless at trying to establish if games are being fixed or not. The fact that it exists is actually a negative because it gives cover to bad actors–something they can point to and say “See, they looked and nothing is there.” In that sense it is a lot like a make-up call. Something that hides, rather than illuminates, the truth.

  3. The Realist

    I don’t believe that there is a grand conspiracy, but the better teams do get the Michael Jordan treatment when it comes to penalties. Something like that won’t show up in an analysis of penalties overall. It’s when the penalties occur. When Florida (for example) needs a penalty, they get one. To a certain extent, that’s part of the game, and it makes an upset that much more exciting.

    Instant replay, on the other hand, is a joke. Why have it at all if you are going to use inferior equipment to what most have in their homes? Too, one man’s judgment is too powerful in the college system. Stick three guys up there and make them come to a consensus. It couldn’t possibly take any longer than it does now… and it would stymie most criticism. It’s easy to criticize one guy’s decision, but a panel of three is more authoritative and convincing… especially when they get it right.

  4. aristoggle

    An unintended consequence of the suggestion to review more plays is extending the length of the game. Between TV timeouts and play review, it already stretches waaay too long.

    When’s the last time your bourbon supply made it through an entire game?

    That said, however, using better quality monitors might require less time to review individual plays.

    • NCT

      It’s essentially immeasurable, I suppose, but we get the general sense that game interruptions sometimes have an impact on “momentum”. Maybe that’s cliché and is just something for fans (and players and coaches) to talk about, but I can say with confidence that frequent and extended interruptions definitely have an effect on the spectators’ emotions, so it seems logical that there would be an effect on the players’, as well.

      It’s easy to say that “getting it right” is of utmost importance. However, in so doing, let’s be mindful of the overzealousness with which better (longer? more frequent?) use of review could be. We’ve seen already what can happen when officials are told to pay extra attention to player celebrations.

  5. BirdDAWG

    A couple of thoughts: 1) He got the conclusion wrong. There is a “trend” that the higher ranked, home team gets MORE flags. Q:Who plays @ home more? A: BCS schools do. (exhibit a: FL 2 yrs ago 9 homes game didn’t hardly leave the State, exhibit b: Troy – CUSA – played 9 away games a few years ago) UGA tries to get 7/8 home games. So given the analysis those ARE THE schools getting ‘harder hit w flags. Subjectively it could be that the officials are trying to “level the playing field”; so in an effort to be unbiased, they are! So they give TTU a “break” & not call emulating signals & give UGA false start in “order to be preceived” as fair. Also, because UGA is @ home more often, they “feel” the blown calls more often – A.J.’s non-TD (SCAR), Excessive celebration (LSU) – at home.
    2) Only at the very end did he mention the importance OF GETTING THE CALL RIGHT! Q: Who has more at stake, given that every game is supposed to count? A: BCS schools do. A trip for CUSA to New Orleans on Dec 19th is not as important as who goes to that same city after New Year’s or to the mythical NC game. Just because there are 6.3 infractions called by NO MEANS indicate that they were ACCURATE, and the author assumes that they are 1 in the same. They aren’t, and there’s PLENTY of evidence to indicate otherwise…..BTW we STILL haven’t heard from corporate HQ who’s right from Sat. (LSU or Bama), and its’ Wednesday.
    3) The 99% right arguement is such a specious one. The fact that were 6 men on the line (an official could count correctly), is not as vital as pass interference in the endzone (yes/ no).

    • rbubp

      Look, more aggressive teams–more commonly, BETTER teams–often get more penalties. We have all heard and seen the numbers showing that some of the best teams in the country are the most penalized, year-in and -out, and that the least penalized are often some of the worst.

      This is a by-product of aggressive play. In itself it nullifies the legitimacy of the argument about total flags being corollated–or NOT–to home/higher ranked teams.

      That the problem is situational is both more visible and more realistic. Good luck getting any actual correction or proof, however; as mentioned above, the NBA has been protecting its stars with phantom “benefit of the doubt” calls forever but continue to deny obvious evidence that even affect outcomes (2006 NBA finals, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_NBA_Finals).

      The only thing anyone can do in college football is remove the potential conflict of interest, i.e., the millions of dollars the conferences have to gain from having one of its teams in the BCS championship. The system itself has the potential to invite corruption if it doesn’t already.

  6. Dog in Fla

    ‘That’s the way they like it on Veteran’s Day’

    Bunker, The SEC Home Office, Downtown Birmingham

    Slive once again calls Rogers Redding on the Code Red carpet for the Lee Harvey’s, the so-called conspiracy theories, and the general overall haphazardness an ineptness of the calls thus far and how to make them a little less obvious if at all possible. Rogers Redding taking on incoming fire from some big-time pain in the ass enemy correspondent over black helo ops tells Slive that the only helo he was ever on was one picking up applicants for The SEC ref training and proving grounds in Area 51 and he has photos to prove it. Slive looks at the pics and tells Redding that those shots look like the helo take out off the top of the embassy during the Fall of Saigon and the cover of this week’s Newsweek. Redding cops to it but says it wasn’t the embassy, it was the CIA building in downtown Saigon and he pulled them off the Wiki to cover his ass because he just knew Slive was going to hold another coach accountable for the officiating work or lack thereof. Slive and Redding start arguing over whether it was the embassy or the CIA for the Saigon takeout but then remember that pretty much neither one was there, so what difference does it make…

    http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2005/04/29/opinion/20050429_vanes_long.gif

    Slive then asks Redding whether he has any other bright ideas that can take the heat off the best doggone college football conference in the world. Redding says he is thinking about having this don’t ask don’t tell cross-dresser to come train the refs, asks Slive if he has ever entertained the idea of having some young chicks instead of fleshy old white guys as krewe members and shows Slive a film of the Lady GaGa putting some girl body-builders through a delicious workout. Slive’s eyes brighten as he takes a look at the delicately musculared chicks but says that he’s not real big on trannies not that there’s anything wrong with that unless by the bad luck of the draw that’s what you end up with after last call and tells Redding why not, go ahead and to make it so because…

  7. Joe B.

    I would like for anyone who cares to go back and watch the 2001 UGA/UT football game for a proper example of why analysis of only penalties does not help.

    There were at least 4 spots in that game that either gave the Vols an unfair advance or UGA an unfair retreat. If you will recall, Ufk was still a great program then, and were ranked #4 in the country, and had the best shot of any SEC team at playing for the national title.

    The point is that it is good to be one of the elite teams. That is what makes it even harder to overcome the negative momentum that UGA has aquired over the last 1.5 years.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Since you postulated an interesting hypothesis (that there is favoritism shown the top ranked teams and that it has been going on for quite some time) let me mention my own observations in that regard. It seems to me that UGA got lots of favorable ref treatment when VD was the head coach. When he retired and Ray Goff took over the favorable calls seemed to go away, particularly when the program sank to .500. Goff couldn’t get a call against any of the top SEC teams and that contributed to his demise. Things stayed that way until Richt arrived. It didn’t change at first, but by the end of the 2002 season things seemed to improve to a level playing field call-wise. But it then does seem that things reverted to the Goff years again. I have a friend who is a longtime football fan and student of the SEC that swears things were going badly with refs before the endzone stomping incident and does not believe that event to be the cause of the present situation. Maybe it is just as simple as UGA is no longer a member of the “Chosen Ones” any longer. Just speculating mind you–not saying that there really is a conspiracy.

  8. Yeah, I thought that this post would prove problematic… Let me respond to some of the comments.

    Mayor, though the term is strong, I don’t disagree that some of the numbers I present are “worthless”. But that was part of my point. I state plainly right at the beginning that I’m not concerned with the subjective side of the penalties, those that should or should not have been called. There’s no way to study the “situational” calls you mention, not only because some of them are subjective, but also because all plays, penalties, downs, decisions, etc impact the outcome of the game. It’s easy to point to a single instance like the bogus celebration call and say that it was THE play that lost the game for Georgia – but in reality that was just one play. Had that play gone differently, could Georgia have won? Definitely. Had any of the other 173 plays in that game gone differently, could Georgia have won? Definitely.

    As far as the study itself being negative, I go to great lengths to point out the fact that there’s no way to prove that the “conspiracies” don’t exist, and nowhere do I claim to prove that they don’t. That was the whole point behind cutting the study off where I did – to continue would have been pointless. That’s the “truth” I was getting at, not that I did a cursory look and didn’t find anything so nothing must exist.

    Birddawg, I don’t get where you’re coming from with your first point. Even though at no point do I combine the home-team and higher-ranked team numbers, and I try to undercut the idea of a firm “conclusion”, some of the numbers do show the home team getting fewer calls while the higher ranked team gets more calls. Not sure how that’s wrong. And as I’ve said, and say in the post, I’m didn’t concern myself with the accuracy of the calls and nowhere do I say that the numbers represent 6.3 accurate calls per game. The whole point of the post was that there are things we can fix about all these penalty problems – let’s work on those instead of sitting around bitching about the subjective things we can’t solve or come to agreements about.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Thank you for that explanation. I wish to compliment you on the thoroughness of your analysis. Nevertheless I still feel that, at best, it does not shed light on the central question on everyone’s minds for the reasons given in my earlier post. At worst, there will be those who will falsely portray this study as an exoneration of the present system even if you never intended for it to be used for that purpose. P.S. I hereby retract the word “useless” from my previous post concerning your study and replace it with “inconclusive.”

      • No worries. You’re right – there’s a lot left unsaid, and though I can’t control how others will portray the study, I’d hope that knowledgable fans would be able to see through those types of false attempts.

    • rbubp

      Yes, as in, Stop letting conferences do the officiating.