Kvetching about officiating in all sports seems to have grown exponentially over the past several years. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because of the proliferation of high def TVs, high speed cameras as a part of telecasts, and the democratization of commentary found on the Internet. NFL ref Ed Hochuli's name has become a byword for bad officiating despite really being a part of only one terribly bad call. MLB is going though an umpiring flap right now. Bill Simmons has been preaching for years about how he thinks the NBA fixes outcomes of games by assigning bad officials to key games. It's all over the place.
The SEC has now come under fire because of questionable and bad calls in the Georgia-LSU games and the Arkansas-Florida games. The fact that it was the same crew in both games has caused some to whisper that things are looking shady. As in, protecting-the-higher-ranked-team shady. That very crew is going to the Alabama-Tennessee game this weekend, and if Alabama gets a notable borderline call in its favor late in the game, I would expect the whispers to grow louder.
Because SEC fans are so passionate, everyone's got a conspiracy theory about everything. Some think that Florida and St. Timothy are being protected for TV ratings. Some Florida fans think there's a general effort working against UF because its not southern enough for the rest of the conference members and would gladly cite circumstances about the probation the school got in the '80s to prove it. I've seen the case been made that officials are calling more penalties against Georgia because of the end zone dance in 2007. I'm sure you can fill me in on your school's conspiracy of choice in the comments.
Besides the obvious PR black eye that an actual conspiracy would result in, the SEC would be very foolish to try to prop up the top couple of schools at the expense of the others. Here's why.
The SEC has the reputation of being the toughest conference in football. It got there by having a ruling class, not overlords. You don't want parity, because then you're the Big East or ACC and everyone thinks you suck. You don't want to have one or two schools above everyone else, because then you're the Big Ten/Big Two of a few years back when Ohio State and Michigan dominated or the Pac-1 of today.
That reputation is a precious thing because, Gary Danielson's wacky charts aside, it really does help the conference in getting teams into both the national title game and BCS games. The Pac-10 hasn't gotten two teams into the BCS since 2002 in large part to its "USC and everyone else" reputation (and some lobbying by Mack Brown in 2004).
Trying to fix matchups in one particular season would be missing the forest for the trees. In the long run, the SEC has little to gain by keeping Florida and Alabama up the expense of other schools. If it were to get to those two schools going to Atlanta every year, then we're either back to the early '90s when the league didn't have its reputation of being the best or it will become the Big Two like the Big Ten did. In the latter case, all it would take is one spectacular failure for everything to come crashing down like it has for the Big Ten over the past couple years.
It's good for the SEC that over the last nine years Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee have all gone to the SEC title game three times apiece. It's good for the SEC that over the last ten years four different teams have represented the West at least twice. The best of all is that it happened without any conspiracies involving officials fixing games. Sure there have been plenty of bad calls over the years, but name a sport that doesn't.
If you haven't guessed it by now, I don't believe that Mike Slive is pulling levers behind the scenes trying to set up certain matches between certain teams that have certain records. I'll invoke a variation Hanlon's Razor again, as I've done before: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. Bad calls are just bad calls, and for them to be anything more would be death to the conference.