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"He would step across the line. Habitually. He's a habitual line stepper." — Charlie Murphy, on Rick James, c. 2003
So summarizes, in a way, Arkansas's ongoing fight for equitable treatment with the Southeastern Conference. It was discovered not long after the buzzer sounded on the Hogs' 57-56 road loss to Florida that two men on the officiating crew, Tony Greene and John Hampton, had officiated about 40 Razorback road games over the years and, oh, Arkansas had ended up winning maybe three of those. Then came the most surreptitious and scandalous factoid: Hampton, who blew the last of a number of controversial whistles on Alandise Harris' largely clean block of Michael Frazier with two seconds left, is a former Kentucky baseall player and a known acquaintance of Florida assistant and deposed head Hog John Pelphrey, a guy whose reliability and judgment has been called into question before.
Hog fans will no doubt recall that when the unranked football team trekked to Gainesville in 2009 to take on the top-ranked Gators, a series of calls went fully and fatally against the Razorbacks in a narrow loss. That farce was so extreme that the SEC took rather unprecedented steps of apologizing for the blown calls and then suspending the officiating crew for three games.
Such is life in this conference, yet again and again. Scheduling undermines the Razorbacks at every turn. For years, they were forced to take on Alabama to open conference play on the gridiron and then after that stopped, oh, by the way, you get to travel to Auburn to open the whole damn season. The basketball team has inexplicably begun league play the past three years with a road game.
It is replete with irony that Arkansas fans leap on this majestic and pitifully corrupt bandwagon when all the SEC has done is treat the Razorback programs with stepchild-level indignity at every turn. Missouri and Texas A&M were both welcomed into this league with rose petals; Arkansas still has to walk on broken beer bottles to try to climb uphill. It's an imbalance that Mike Anderson skirted around in his postgame comments on Saturday, but he was correct and, for the first time as a coach here, truly assertive in defense of his team against something resembling injustice.
Florida went to the line 18 more times than Arkansas in the game and of course ended up with a significant point advantage there. It absolutely was the deciding factor in a game where the Hogs played some invigorated defense to offset their own offensive woes. Florida was bailed out numerous occasions early, then got a complete rescue when Harris alertly contested Frazier's putback attempt.
Moments later, Anderson was calling out Hampton by name, and the league office had stayed mum as of Tuesday morning. There seems to be no penalty in the offing for Anderson, which suggests that he's going to get a pass altogether at this point. And that in turn seems to be a tacit condemnation of the officiating issues that plagued that game, and by and large are evident in just about every SEC contest of note.
Hampton is that aforementioned habitual line-stepper, the guy who, against all ethical soundness, accepts assignments to oversee Razorback games despite being clearly abusive of his discretion in that regard. Does he think his friend Mr. Pelphrey was treated unfairly here? Quite possibly. He should be aware of Pelphrey's utter failure to build on the relatively decent foundation that remained after Stan Heath's forced exit, which included two losing seasons in his five undistinguished ones, as well as Pelphrey's constant pattern of recruiting and then evicting talented but troubled players.
This league's reputation is a house of cards. What good does it do to tout having the "best and fastest and strongest athletes" when you also have the shadiest and most untrustworthy officials in charge of the proceedings? The entire conference is done a grave disservice when week after week, its crews are subject to even a smidgen of amateur investigation.
Good and bad calls happen. There's no doubting the human element of this. But when the appearance of impropriety shrouds a competition between two teams that are fighting hard to win on the merits, the league office's plausible deniability disappears and it is forced to address the issue head-on. But do you honestly think Commissioner Mike Slive is going to ever offer any kind of worthwhile commentary on the situation, much less any just reproach?