LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The head of the Southeastern Conference said Thursday that there are more important issues facing the league than officiating or its get-tough policy on coaches who criticize referees.
Defending the league's referees during a speech in Little Rock, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said the biggest question facing the league is how it can continue to balance academics and athletics.
"The important question for the conference is not about bylaw 10.5.4 and it's not about fines and it's not about officiating," Slive said, referring to a league bylaw prohibiting coaches from publicly criticizing referees. "The important questions for the conference is what can we do to make sure this legacy lives on, so our successors celebrate our centennial anniversary, they'll look back with pride and say we preserved the mission of the conference."
The SEC last week fined Florida coach Urban Meyer $30,000 for saying referees missed a late hit on quarterback Tim Tebow in the Georgia game. Meyer was the first coach punished under the league's stiffer penalties for publicly criticizing officiating.
The SEC suspended a crew that called two personal foul penalties in separate games that were not supported by video evidence, including one that helped Florida on a touchdown drive late in a 23-20 victory over Arkansas.
Before instituting the tougher penalties, Slive had reprimanded three coaches -- Arkansas' Bobby Petrino, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen -- for public complaints about referees.
"I think officiating is a difficult, difficult endeavor. It's the only endeavor that we have that you need to be perfect when you start and then get better," Slive said. "You have seven officials, you have 22 athletes and you have the speed of the game. Officials are human and we're going to have mistakes. The question is, we need to deal with internally and make sure we continue to evaluate our officiating program, which we'll continue to do."
Slive also dismissed a suggestion by an audience member that the SEC's officiating crews were biased in favor of keeping Florida and Alabama undefeated.
"I think that takes these issues to a place that really doesn't make any sense," Slive said.
Slive had been invited to speak at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service about business and academics in college sports. Asked by reporters whether questions about officiating were becoming a distraction, Slive said: "Anything that detracts from paying attention to the great players in our league is a distraction."