Graning: Do chicken calls control outcomes?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 30, 2004

What, in sports lingo, is a chicken call by an official? I have heard from several sources LSU lost to Auburn because an official’s chicken call allowed Auburn a second chance to kick a successful point-after touchdown that gave Auburn that 10-9 lead.

I have seen the replay of that play and violation several times since the game as well as watching it during the telecast of the game (I discussed the rule last week). There is no question the LSU player violated the rule as it is written.

The official’s call only becomes chicken if that same violation had been ignored earlier in the game. That was not the case in the LSU-Auburn game, and LSU certainly did not break the same rule in their Mississippi State game, since State not only failed to score a touchdown but didn’t get into field goal range.

Email newsletter signup

Penalties certainly do play an important part in the outcome, but the most-penalized team doesn’t always lose the game. As a case in point, Mississippi State was only penalized a single time against LSU, but penalties certainly played a large part in Ole Miss’ 37-32 loss to Wyoming.

I have always known that even the first-quarter 5-yard penalty has as much impact on a game as does the last-minute pass interference call. Fan perception is otherwise, of course.

There was a certain irony to Florida’s loss to Tennessee a week ago as a result of officiating errors. It seems only yesterday an official’s ruling that a short forward pass by Florida was complete for a touchdown was the defining moment in Florida’s upset win in Knoxville.

Close scrutiny of that play showed that ruling it a catch was a stretch, but Florida was glad to accept that ruling. The recent game between the schools brought more controversy.

To reset the situation, Florida was left holding a one-point lead when Tennessee missed an extra point after scoring what should have been the tying touchdown. While trying to gain a first down which would have enabled them to run out the clock, a Florida wideout and a Tennessee defensive back got into some kind of altercation.

Television replay seemed to show the Tennessee player push the Florida kid in the facemask, and the Florida player then hitting his opponent in the head.

The side judge appeared to see the entire action and dropped his flag, calling a foul against the UF player. From replay only, it looked like he should have called offsetting fouls.

We don’t have the ability to see what might have led up to the altercation. To compound the problem, the referee failed to restart the game clock after enforcing the penalty, allowing Tennessee an extra 20 to 25 seconds that allowed them to get into position to kick the game-winning field goal.

The call by the side judge was his sole responsibility, but the timing error falls on the entire officiating crew. If an official is so intimidated by his referee he is afraid to call his attention to a timing problem, he has no business officiating at that level.

That is why the entire crew has been punished, likely by cancelling a couple of their assignments.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at