HOOVER, Ala. — Steve Shaw has a message to Alabama fans who think the Crimson Tide didn’t get fair treatment regarding penalties last season: “If there’s something in there, we’ll see it.”
“Somebody’s going to be the most penalized team and someone’s going to be the last,” the SEC Coordinator of Football Officials said Tuesday at SEC Media Days without specifically addressing the Crimson Tide’s situation in 2016.
Alabama’s opponents were flagged just 58 times for 471 yards. Not only were those totals the fewest of any Crimson Tide team under Nick Saban, but also the fewest in college football last season (without even factoring in the number of games played, 15).
If those same teams had been called for their average number of penalties they would have been flagged 86.8 times against Alabama.
The lack of one penalty in particular raised the eyebrows of Crimson Tide fans. Alabama’s opponents were flagged for holding only once during the final eight games (Florida in the SEC Championship Game), and three times all season.
Moreover, Washington and Clemson both had just three penalties in the College Football Playoff games, with the Tigers recording none in the second half of the College Football Playoff national championship game.
“People naturally think if they’re the least penalized then the officials like them, and if they’re the most they don’t, but it could be how they play,” Shaw said. “Sometimes it’s just how the game flows. But do we look at that? Absolutely.
“There’s no room for any bias. If there are certain things that show up with an official or a crew, we’ll see them and we’ll address it.”
Similar to how a coaching staff grades player performances each week, the same is done for officials.
“With our database capability we track everything,” Shaw said. “We track every penalty flag that’s thrown by an official. We track an official individually, how many fouls he has on his sideline. We flip the linesmen and the line judge at halftime. Do you call more penalties on your sideline or versus the other sideline? Are you influenced by home versus visitors.
“So we’re looking at all those components to see if there’s a bias.”
It should also be noted that most Alabama games weren’t close last season, with the average score of 39-13.
Shaw was named the SEC’s head of officiating in 2011 after serving 15 years as a referee, but having never worked an Alabama game that wasn’t an exhibition due to it being his alma mater. He’ll also start a four-year term as the NCAA’s secretary-rules editor on Sept. 1.
He’ll also continue to encourage coaches to submit what they believe to be questionable calls to the SEC home office after each game (even though they often don’t like what he subsequently tells them), but does ask that they try and limit the number to single digits.
“[Otherwise] it just means you’re mad about the game,” Shaw said.