Posted August 28, 2001

by David L. Howard

I was reading an article about Southeastern Conference football officials in the Knoxville News Sentinel and found some interesting parallels to judging a horse show.

SEC supervisor of officials Bobby Gaston says there are 160 "decision moments" each official faces in each game. "If you multiply 160 by seven officials, you see there are over 1,000 decisions a crew must make every game," Gaston said.

I don't know how many "decision moments" there are while judging a horse show but if you only make one "decision" about every horse at the Celebration in every class, you have approximately 5,000 decisions. Multiply that times five officials and you come up with more than 25,000 decisions.

Plus the judges have to make a decision on a horse's performance both ways of the ring, in workouts and in many other ways such that the number of decisions reaches astronomical proportions.

How many times have we seen officials "blow" a call in a game? The SEC officials meet once a year and present the annual Golden Whistle Award, which goes to the biggest "officiating screw-up" of the year. And there are no shortage of bad calls to choose from.

Officiating (judging) at any level is a thankless task and will always be subject to the human element and controversy. Last year when an official ruled a pass completion in the end zone for Florida receiver Jabbar Gaffney to beat the University of Tennessee in the closing moments of a very important early season game, the fans in Knoxville let him know about it.

The big screen in the end zone replayed the catch several times with the official standing helplessly by while the fans vented their anger towards him. Later, when he was identified by name and as a graduate of Vanderbilt University, a heated rival of Tennessee, many people on talk shows and the Internet questioned his motives and alleged a conflict of loyalties.

I am a big fan of the University of Tennessee and saw the game and the replay and the official blew the call, in my opinion. But to condemn this man over one difficult decision in a game of a thousand decisions is patently unfair. And then to question his ethics and loyalties because he attended a rival university is ridiculous.

But how often do we do the same type of thing. You can rest assured that judges (officials) are going to blow some calls. Instead of condemning them for a bad decision and/or questioning their integrity or "loyalty" to a particular horse or rider, let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

Not everyone is going to be pleased with the decisions the judges make during the Celebration, that's a given. But how we react to those decisions will tell us a lot about ourselves. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear someone say "We got beat by a better horse tonight" or "I thought we beat that other horse but I guess the judges just missed it"?

By the way, I found it interesting that the top officials in the league make $1,000 a game; the judges at the Celebration are paid $16,500.