The Human Element
During this week's podcast with Steve Logan, the topic of officiating came up. More specifically, the tendencies of officials to give certain teams calls in certain situations.
He confirmed from his experience what we all suspect from years watching sporting events: teams that are favored to win–or even those from a more-respected conference or with a better "brand"–tend to get calls at crucial points in a game.
As the head coach at ECU, he would tell his team heading into contests against big-name opponents, "we've got to score six touchdowns, because two of those are going to get taken away" [by the officials].
Because of advances in television technology–high-resolution, high-speed cameras that can show us a moment in time down to the millisecond–we're able to see far more of the minutiae that occurs on any given play. If football is a game of inches, we're seeing the truth of that maxim more clearly today than ever before.
You would think these advances would cease, or at least greatly reduce, the number of instances where plays are called incorrectly. But if anything, it feels worse. We aren't really getting the calls right more often–we're finding more instances of missed calls that our human eye wasn't able to detect without the benefit of super-slo-mo.
Coach Logan's point in bringing up the natural fallacy of human officials wasn't to cry "woe is me!" It was stress we're never going to be able to do away with the injustice inherent in human officiating. Until the day comes where microsensors in the football can register the instant it crosses the plane, or the sidelines are fitted with lasers to detect the slightest touch of a player's foot out of bounds as he sprints toward the goal line, human officials–and all their flaws–will remain a necessity.
And since we're stuck with them for now, we–as fans, players and coaches–have to accept that injustice is a natural part of the game. Yes, teams get bad calls, and yes, officials "even the ledger" with make-up calls. In a world where the rich often get richer at the expense of the "little guy," the sports world has its own wealthy elite who benefit from officials–subconsciously, for the most part–from the expectation of success these schools and programs have built up over time.
I don't know that State is at such a huge disadvantage in terms of public perception against Tennessee as to fear we'll get the shaft from officials. State's a BCS school and in Sports Illustrated's top 25; the Tennessee of 2012 isn't the Tennessee of 1998.
Nevertheless, the Vols will enter the game with a SEC patch on their uniforms; State, an ACC patch. As Coach Logan said last night, "Tennessee will be expected to win." And indeed, the Vols enter as 3.5-point favorites. If the stadium is filled with 2/3rds Tennessee fans as we expect it will be, a lot of elements of the game outside of the men who step onto the field will play into the Volunteer's favor.
If either school can expect to fall victim to the injustice of the human element of officiating, it's probably going to be the Wolfpack. We should expect that, and plan accordingly. The alternative–hope like hell it doesn't happen and then bitch about it after the fact when it does–won't really do us any good.