Column: Volume of foul calls is officially a problem in the SEC

SEC basketball fans have become conditioned to cringe when they see names like “TV” Teddy Valentine and Pat Adams working the floor. They know what they are getting into — a miserable basketball game filled with an unholy amount of fouls.

This sort of a reaction is warranted. South Carolina's only conference loss of the season, a Jan. 21 loss to Kentucky, was a miserable defeat, and not only because of the lopsided score. The Gamecocks had a 26-16 foul differential to deal with versus the Wildcats. Five of those fouls were on offense.

That sort of foul count has plagued the Gamecocks all season. They are currently averaging 21.3 personal fouls per game, the 31st highest total out of 347 Division I teams. 

Among Power Five programs, only Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Arkansas have averaged more fouls than South Carolina.

In the most extreme examples, the officiating goes something like this: Pat Adams and crew will strut out onto the court and proceed to call 50 fouls. This is not an exaggeration. This actually happened last January in a matchup between Arkansas and Texas A&M. That crew somehow managed to call 50 fouls in 40 minutes of game time.

This isn’t just an anomaly. This is an embarrassing trend, and it has been on the rise for years now. No team from the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12 ranks in the top 50 in highest fouls per game. Oklahoma State is the only representative from the Big 12. Four teams from the SEC rank in the top 50, four times the combined total of the other Power Five programs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of the top 50 teams averaging the least penalties, the PAC-12 has five teams, the Big-Ten has four and the Big-12 has three. The best-officiated conference appears to be the ACC, as they have seven of the top 50 least penalized teams. Those fan-bases do not know how lucky they are.

Meanwhile, SEC fans are forced to hear the officials whistle over and over and over again. Only Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are among the 50 least-penalized teams. After a while, you find yourself laughing at how comically bad the officiating crews are, whether they are missing obvious travels or whistling for the slightest amount of contact on defense.

Beyond the raw numbers, officiating blunders are negatively affecting games all too frequently. On the same night as South Carolina's loss to Kentucky, Georgia also became a victim of poor officiating. There was a problem when the play clock stopped with just under six seconds to go, but the officials did not notice. Georgia didn’t notice either. The Bulldogs were only down one and they tried to get an easy lay-up for the win.

The Georgia player was fouled, but after an official review the foul occurred after time had expired. Texas A&M got the 63-62 win, and there was nothing anyone could do to reverse it.

Gaffs like this, in addition to the absurd number of fouls per game called on SEC teams is an indictment on the SEC’s basketball integrity. It is impossible to play fair, competitive games when teams are having to play every game at the free throw line and worry about their players fouling out.

It is time for the SEC to either retrain these officials and teach them how basketball works, or fire them and allow people who do understand the game to officiate. They have the money to go out and hire new officials. Why must they hang on to the current group when year after year when they prove to be incompetent relative to other Power Five conferences?

Yes, SEC officials really are that bad, and probably then some.



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