Everybody's implying it, but nobody will come right out and say what has been whispered for years: that college football officials intentionally cheat to protect teams in the conferences that employ them.
Isn't that what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops essentially is claiming about Pac-10 officials in the wake of one of the most heinous home-cooking cases in the history of college football?
After a Pac-10 replay official refused Saturday to overturn an obviously blown call in which an Oregon player touched an onside kick before the ball went the required 10 yards, Stoops called the mistakes "inexcusable" and then issued this veiled slam at the integrity of the zebras:
"They had the opportunity to get it right, and they chose not to."
Translation: Maybe they didn't want to get it right.
There's an old officiating limerick that I love to use in situations such as this:
"There once was a ref whose vision,
Was cause for abuse and derision,
He remarked in surprise,
'Why pick on my eyes?
It's my heart that dictates my decision.'"
Why is it so taboo to suggest there might be some unethical officials? There are unethical coaches, unethical players, even unethical sports writers. Aren't the odds pretty good there might be unethical refs, too?
College football is big business, and the major conferences are the biggest beneficiaries. One crucial officiating call for a Pac-10 team by a Pac-10 official could mean the difference in the Pac-10 team's gaining admittance to a $15 million BCS bowl.
There have been too many glaring instances of obviously wrong calls in recent years to think everything is always aboveboard. Remember the Florida-Florida State game three years ago when Atlantic Coast Conference officials robbed the Gators with so many blatantly bad calls that you couldn't help but question their integrity? And remember UCF-Georgia in 1999 when the Knights were driving for the winning score but were taken out of field-goal range by a Southeastern Conference official who called a phantom penalty for offensive pass interference?
Officials take up for their teams and always have. Dick Pace, an Orlando resident and a retired SEC official, told me once of an incident several years ago during a Florida-Florida State game. At the time, the game was called by a split crew made up of Florida's SEC officials and FSU's Southern Independent Assn. officials.
"There was one play," Pace said, "where the SEC official called defensive pass interference against FSU and the Southern Independent official came running in and called offensive pass interference against Florida."
Blatantly biased officiating is the dirtiest little secret in all of college football. Why do you think it is that only Pac-10 officials are used on Pac-10 turf? And why is it that the Florida-Florida State contract specifically stipulates that the visiting team always brings officials from its conference?
The solution, of course, is to do it like college basketball, where officials are in regional associations and not beholden to a conference. But, of course, this never would fly in football, where the major conferences have all the power and want to keep it that way.
Pac-10 officiating is just the latest example of the ridiculousness of college football - a sport where games are decided by bias, national championships are decided by opinion and the Heisman Trophy is decided by Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit.