South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner offered his first extensive public comments on the controversial officiating from this past weekend’s game between the Gamecocks and Florida.
Speaking during his monthly radio interview on 107.5 FM’s The Halftime Show, Tanner said the past week has been “very emotional” for him, adding that it was “very, very frustrating” during the game Saturday, a 38-27 USC loss that featured several questionable non-calls that led to Florida scoring plays.
Tanner’s comments came within an hour of the Southeastern Conference releasing a statement from commissioner Greg Sankey. In that statement, Sankey did not address the fallout from the USC-UF game or the Tennessee-Alabama contest, both of which drew significant scrutiny for the officiating.
Instead, the statement mostly focused on the idea that officiating games is difficult and reiterated the league’s standard practice when it comes to reviewing officials.
“Commissioner Sankey has tremendous integrity, runs a great league. I would argue that he’s one of the best commissioners in the business,” Tanner said.
“Now, that being said, it doesn’t take away from our frustration and disappointment, when we have a head coach and assistant coaches and players that are giving it their all. And there’s some things that happen that really give you great concern, and that emotional, and that’s where I’ve been.”
Tanner added that he thinks there should be more public comment from conferences acknowledging officiating mistakes, but expressed concern about publicly disciplining referees by name.
“I would agree with, there should be some type of maybe public comment,” Tanner told hosts Jay Philips and Tommy Moody. “I don’t believe in the personal exposure, you know. ... These officials aren’t trying to make mistakes, they’re trying to do the very best they can. It is tough. There’s some tremendous athletes running around on the field that it makes it pretty difficult to be an umpire or an official, a referee. I get that part, but I would like to see, you know, some more public sharing of information, if you will, but it does get dicey.”
In its statement, the SEC emphasized it has methods in place for evaluating and disciplining referees.
“SEC officials are held accountable for the overall body of their work and the work of their officiating crew, which is reviewed on a weekly basis throughout the season and on an annual basis,” the statement read. “In addition, during the season, officials’ assignments may be altered based on in-season performance. By protocol, the SEC does not publicly announce these assignment changes.”
Tanner echoed that part of the statement in his comments, saying “public exposure” of officials was not the best course of action and pointing to the evaluation process,
“What you want is accountability, and we have that,” Tanner said. “But it’s not for public consumption, but it is in place.”
Tanner added that he has spoken with commissioner Sankey and head of officiating Steve Shaw multiple times since Saturday, just as coach Muschamp, who criticized the manner in which an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed to him, said he has.
But like Muschamp, Tanner declined to comment on the specifics of those conversations, citing SEC bylaws that prohibit school coaches and administrators from publicly criticizing officials or disclosing comments to or from the conference about officiating. That bylaw was also referenced in the SEC’s statement.
“This is a bylaw that was enacted by unanimous vote of the SEC’s member institutions and it is the responsibility of the Conference office to enforce this bylaw by use of private or public reprimands, fines or suspensions,” the statement read.
“You can rest assured that I expressed my feelings, my concerns, my discontent,” Tanner said.
When asked by Philips if he was satisfied with his conversations with those officials, Tanner said he was not.
“I don’t think that I was going to be satisfied to be honest with you, no matter what anybody said. I wasn’t gonna be satisfied,” Tanner said. “ ... I wasn’t going to probably get to that point, I didn’t get to that point, I’m not at that point.”
Moving forward, Tanner questioned whether more could be done to improve officiating.
“We’ve evolved. You know, things have changed in athletics in general, (in) college athletics. Bigger, faster, stronger, a lot of things have happened,” Tanner said. “Have we evolved enough from the officiating side? Do we need another official, do we need an official in the booth? Do we need another opportunity for coaches to question the call, more questionable calls? We have the technology to do it. Maybe we need to do more to get games right. And I’m not talking about slowing game downs, not talking about making it difficult, but do we need more opportunities to question the call?”