Sunday, December 16, 2012

Scarbinsky gets one right

image Signs of the impending Mayan Apocalypse are few and far between, but the Birmingham News’ columnist Kevin Scarbinsky getting it right could be an omen of uncomfortable significance.

In a column appearing in the Sunday print editions of all three of Alabama’s major daily newspapers, Scarbinsky discusses the Southeastern Conference’s decision not to issue any suspensions for rough play during the SEC Championship Game on December 1.

In it, he reaches an amazingly logical and correct conclusion:

Shaw maintained that the nature of the two plays was very different, and he’s right. Elston was a defensive player taking down a potential receiver. Dial was a blocker wiping out a potential tackler.

That leads to a key question that figures into the decision to suspend a player. What exactly is a defenseless player?

Best I can tell, if you’re an offensive player going for the ball and you get hammered, there’s a chance you’ll be labeled defenseless. If you’re a defensive player going to the ball - and Murray became a defender when his pass was picked off - you have almost no chance.

There you go, sports fans.

In all but the rarest of plays that drew unnecessary roughness flags or led to the suspension of a player because of unsportsmanlike behavior, the victim was an offensive player and the perpetrator was a defender.

The fact that Georgia’s Aaron Murray plays quarterback is completely immaterial. He was hit following an interception of his pass while he appeared to be making his way towards the ball carrier. At the moment Alabama’s Quinton Dial laid him out, he was a defender.

We see defenders get laid out almost every Saturday. It happens on punt and kickoff returns, interception returns, sweeps, reverses and almost any other play where the action is unexpectedly fast and players are suddenly flying all over the field. Flags usually don’t fly when a defender gets boomed.

But arrive at the same time as the ball on a pass play—like Ole Miss’ Trae Elston did against UTEP—and you have a better than even chance to be flagged and an even stronger chance to be suspended.

Most of the critics of Dial’s hit and the SEC’s no-action decision are led by CBS’ Tim Brando, Tony Barnhart and Gary Danielson. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution predictably picked up the screed and they all howl in righteous indignation. Their suggestion is that the SEC let BCS Crystal cloud their judgment; that the conference is allowing Dial to play January 7 in order to help a conference representative bring home Crystal Football No. 7.

That argument is laughable on its face for two reasons that nobody seems willing or able to discern.

One, the conference collects a paycheck regardless of who wins the BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame. Whether Dial plays or not, the SEC and Alabama get paid for being there. If Dial’s availability had an impact on that payday, then critics advancing the argument might have a point.

Two, if the SEC is “taking care of Alabama’s business” in not enforcing rules, then how do you excuse no action on Georgia’s Jarvis Ogletree and Sheldon Dawson for their nasty play two weeks ago? Ogletree was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, in which he clearly made helmet contact with AJ McCarron during a pass play. Sheldon Dawson was shown in video replay attempting to gouge the eyes of DJ Milliner in another play. Georgia plays Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, the conference’s highest paying non-BCS venue and both of those players will suit up in Orlando. If the SEC was protecting Alabama by selectively enforcing rules, it follows logically that they would suspend the Georgia players while letting Dial skate to Miami.

No one except us bammer homers are willing to even discuss the actions of Ogletree and Dawson. Nope. All of the wailing and gnashing of teeth is over Dial’s hit. At least the News’ Scarbinsky steps back from that and looks at the differences between the Elston and Dial plays. The most important difference is that Elston was a defender going after a receiver, while Dial became an offensive player going after a defender.

In finding that reasoning, Scarbinsky gets it right. Scary, but… Mayans.

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