Calciopoli Southern Style?

Penalty FlagOn our Saturday morning post, Breakfast Before Memphis, I referred to the $30,000 fine handed to Urban Meyer as reported in Dr. Saturday’s article, A brief history of the SEC’s descent into ref-related absurdity. The good doctor recounted the litany of questionable calls that have been widely publicized, spawning a conversation that has resulted in opinions ranging from “bad officiating is an unfortunate part of the game” to “the fix is in.”

Some who gravitate toward the latter end of the opinion spectrum don’t do so because they think that gambling forces are hidden in the weeds. Their premise is more sinister: the conference would like to guarantee that Alabama or Florida will play in this year’s BCS championship game in Pasadena.

Now who in their right mind would ever think that SEC officials would make calls in a way to ensure a favorable outcome of selected games?

Italian soccer refereeFor one, a fan of european club football (soccer) would be highly suspicious of any perceived pattern of calls with a plausible motive behind it. In Italy, a scandal (known as the Calciopoli) was broken by legal authorities in May 2006 (mainly by wiretapping) that exposed a highly intricate network of relations between club officials and referee organizations. The short story is that owners/mangers of some of the biggest clubs in the world, including Juventus of Turin, were shown to have rigged matches by having favorable referees selected by the league for their matches. Imagine the incestuous network that was created for something like that to happen. For a short version of this scandal, read this at Wikipedia. For a lengthy presentation, read John Foot’s scholarly Winning at All Costs: The Untold Story of Triumph, Tragedy, and Corruption In Italian Soccer. I’ve read it. It’s utterly frightening, mainly because of the subtlety of the whole thing.

Before the hate mail and death threats start to roll in, let me say this: I have no opinion on the situation in the SEC because I have not performed any personal assessment of the calls in question. Nor am I equating Italian society and culture to that in America. Nor am I trying to insinuate that Dr. Saturday was trying to say something that he was not (he wrote that “none of the bad calls in the SEC this year directly affected the outcome of a game. None of them resulted in an injury. These were ordinary mistakes, the kind officials have been making (and will continue to make) for decades, and that fans gripe about for a couple days and move on.”).

Just have a look at Dr. Saturday’s article (he provides some video clips as well). Add to that a discussion of Saturday’s call in the Alabama-LSU game provided by the LSU blog And the Valley Shook. And, read David Climer’s article that evokes the Grassy Knoll imagery to paint the paranoia side of this issue. Then answer the following questions.

  • Is there a pattern of bad calls involving certain teams at critical game-changing moments?
  • If you think there is a pattern, how likely do you think that the pattern is man-made?
  • What would it take to convince you that Calciopoli Southern Style was cooking on the stove?
  • Do you think such a devious scenario is even plausible (anything is possible which is why I chose a different word)?

Chime in…

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2 responses to “Calciopoli Southern Style?”

  1. bert says :

    not sure i buy a “league-sanctioned conspiracy” but it does
    seem rather odd that the high-profile sec teams get the benefit
    of the calls/no-calls.

    there have been way too many “questionable” calls/no calls this
    season to list ‘em all but the best example i believe is the
    “unnecessary roughness” call in the arkansas-florida game which
    was clearly botched by the officials. there is no doubt that the
    razorback was reacting to the gator trying to block him,
    ie defending himself.

    throw in the fact that there were only 7 minutes to go in the 4th
    quarter and florida was behind 20 – 13 and it just seems like
    it was a slimy, unnecessary call.

    in addition, arkansas was penalized 10 times for 92 yards while
    da gators were only penalized 3 for 16. i’m sure with a little research
    we could probably see a pattern in the number of penalties called
    on elite sec teams vs their opponents.

    it all adds up to the sense that some teams continue to get
    preferential treatment.

  2. norcalvol says :

    The play that raised my eyebrows was the pass interception call against Arkansas at Florida. The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the play was Calciopoli.
    But I agree with Bert that the conspiracy stuff is hard to accept.
    Benefit of the doubt? – yes, I believe it goes to the big teams.
    The professional writers have called this issue boring and tired (ESPN’s college football podcast this past Monday). I think the opposite. There SHOULD be a lot of eyes on this issue and people SHOULD be vocal about it, for no other reason than to show the leagues that fans care about the game and they are watching. They care about the level of officiating.
    I also think that this should be considered – the number of cameras compared to even 5 years ago makes it much easier for viewers to scrutinize officiating. So I don’t believe it is necessarily credible to say that officiating is getting worse. It’s just easier now to see the flaws in human beings trying to interpret plays as they happen in real time.
    I follow english soccer quite closely. Favoritism is no doubt true when it comes to Manchester United. Their coach continually harps and gripes and whines about the officials, and I believe he gets the benefit of the doubt. He is constantly in the head of the officials, and he pulls a disproportional amount of weight in the influence game. United is an international symbol of english football. No evidence, but I’ve watched too many games to believe otherwise. It generally goes for Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal as well. They are year in and year out at the top of the league and they will tend to get the benefit of the doubt.
    Look at baseball – the big names are arguably protected when it comes to the strike zone. Rookies? Ha!
    NBA? Definitely.
    I agree with Bert. Preferential treatment? Likely, yes. Conspiracy? I hope not.

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