November 06, 2009
I recounted Thursday the long chain of calls, apologies, complaints and threats that put the SEC in the position of potentially fining or suspending Florida coach Urban Meyer for criticizing conference officials, with one looming question: Did the conference really have the guts to drop the hammer on its most visible, most successful and highest-paid coach for a mild line in a press conference? Today, the SEC office answered authoritatively: Yes, yes it does.
Florida coach Urban Meyer was fined $30,000 by the Southeastern Conference for his public comments concerning officiating, Commissioner Mike Slive announced Friday.
"Coach Meyer has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics," Slive said. "SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 clearly states that the coaches, players and support personnel shall refrain from public criticism of officials. The league’s Athletics Directors and Presidents and Chancellors have made it clear that negative public comments on officiating are not acceptable."
Give the league this: It stepped up to enforce its stated policy, and brought enough heat to finally bring the escalating series of mini-scandals over the last month to an end. Meyer apologized for publicly suggesting officials failed to flag Georgia for an illegal hit on Tim Tebow last Saturday in the Gators' 41-17 win, and the SEC's other 11 coaches will think five or six times before calling out the refs with a microphone in their face again.
It's the "again" part, of course, that made the fine necessary, and the SEC's decision to repeatedly, publicly undermine its own officials opened the door to those circumstances. Meyer was the sixth coach to publicly criticize conference officials in the last three weeks, following Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Tennessee's Lane Kiffin (all of whom were publicly reprimanded by the conference) as well as Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson and Tennessee assistant Ed Orgeron, after the SEC itself publicly acknowledged a bad call at the end of Georgia's loss to LSU on Oct. 3 and then suspended the same crew for several sketchy calls in Florida's win over Arkansas two weeks later. The conference's sudden willingness to acknowledge mistakes to the media obviously emboldened coaches to point them out, too, and the conference felt compelled after reprimanding Kiffin to raise the stakes of such insolence by mandating a fine or suspension for the first offense.
So the end result of the SEC's effort to bring "transparency" to the policing of bad calls is the coach of the No. 1 team in the country being fined $30K over a comment he made at a press conference -- in response to the suspension of his own player for a bit of unnecessary roughness -- about a play barely anyone would have ever remembered in a game that was decided by 24 points. Now that the league has made its point clear to the coaches, maybe it will keep its own opinions about bad calls behind closed doors from here on.