Yesterday, Greg Sankey announced that the SEC has retained the services of international accounting firm Deloitte to conduct a review of its football officiating. Now, he’s tried to drape that call in the context of providing better communication with the public in the face of criticism about officiating, but I think there’s something deeper afoot.
I mean, let’s face it — there’s been loud and continuous griping about SEC officiating for years and the conference has done little in response, other than the occasional suspension for something truly egregious (hey, there, Mark Curles). Now, though, Sankey would tell us that the times, they are a-changin’. And make no mistake, he’s at least considering a level of accountability that certainly would be different.
His underlying rationale, though, isn’t particularly convincing.
“I believed then and I still believe we have as good a college football officiating program as there is yet we can still keep improving,” Sankey told The Associated Press. “And we started first looking at how do we communicate about officiating? And it was forward looking to this coming season that the nature of media, the focus on officiating, the fact there are commentators and broadcast booths giving opinions, sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not correct. You don’t have complete information. Those are game changers for us.”
Last time I checked, the media’s been with us for a while, Greg. And they’ve had no problem questioning calls publicly.
So, pardon the weak pun, what’s the game changer now? It seems pretty obvious to me.
It is known the conference is concerned about the impact of new gambling culture might have on the game’s integrity. A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states have the ability to legalize single-game gambling if they so choose.
Currently, one state in the SEC’s footprint (Mississippi) allows sports gambling. The NCAA continues to prohibit gambling by its athletes on any sport it sponsors, even if those athletes are of legal age.
Shaw has made clear the specter of gambling. He brings an FBI agent in each year to speak with his officials. Sankey said part of the review would deal with “conflict of interest” issues.
“Integrity is the bottom line of everything,” Shaw said last month. “… Gambling is a pervasive thing.”
No shit. If there’s one clear cut existential threat to competitive sports, it’s the threat that the public loses faith in the product being competitive because of the perception that the game is rigged. The belief that outcomes are being fixed is death. If you’re a sports league, you have to zealously guard against that, no matter how trivial it may seem. (That’s why Pete Rose isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame.)
Don’t get me wrong. If the SEC decides it’s in its best interests to bring more transparency to its officiating, there’s no downside to that. Not only do we learn more about what happened, but greater accountability from those officials can do nothing but improve their performance. (A regime like that would have lopped a decade off Penn Wagers’ career.) But the idea that this is in response to the media hurting Sankey’s fee-fees is a bit misleading.