The old adage still rings true today. It’s better to remain silent than to speak and be fined for saying what you think. Sports organizations don’t like it when people within their closed societies speak poorly of them, and Lane Kiffin, the head coach of Florida Atlantic University (FAU), learned this the hard – and expensive – way. He was fined for posting a tweet that called out the poor performance of refs during a recent game.
Kiffin posted a meme, an image of blind refs on the football field after the FAU Owls lost to the Marshall Thundering Herd last Friday, 36-31. The team, according to Kiffin, didn’t lose because it was outplayed; rather, it lost because the officiating crew wasn’t on top of its own game. Kiffin was apparently frustrated over the result and the fact that his team dropped to 2-1 in the conference and 4-3 overall.
Conference USA didn’t appreciate the gesture, so it slapped Kiffin with a fine.
“I just lost $5,000 for a tweet,” Kiffin told ESPN. “We have freedom of speech, but I guess around here there’s no such thing as freedom to tweet. Maybe LeBron James will come out and comment about it tomorrow.”
FAU saw nine penalties in the game, giving up 90 yards as a result. In a post-game conference, the calls were brought up by reporters, but Kiffin said at the time that he wasn’t going to talk about them.
“I already made the decision I’m not going to get into officiating,” Kiffin said. “I don’t know if we lose money in this conference — we probably do — and I don’t have a lot anymore. I’m not going to lose any. I’m about to say what I want to say, but I’m not going to. The assistant AD is back there shaking his head like, ‘Hey, don’t say what you want to say.’ I’m not gonna say anything.”
He must have changed his mind since he posted the blind refs image the following day. It didn’t take long for conference executives to get wind of it and they took action – faster than any of the refs had done during the game.
In issuing the fine, Commissioner Judy MacLeod stated, “Conference USA has specific rules and standards regarding sportsmanship which have been adopted by our membership. We have an obligation to enforce our rules, including the prohibition of public criticism of officiating.”
At least the tweet didn’t have the type of damaging impact that Daryl Morey’s tweet had on the NBA, but it shows how restrictive the leagues are with their members. Sometimes it’s simply better to bite the tongue, or at least make comments with the wallet in hand.
There hasn’t been any word on whether or not FAU approved or disapproved of Kiffin’s public admonishment of the refs’ performance. The former University of Southern California and Oakland Raiders head coach has been with the school for the past three years, taking the team to 11-3 and a Boca Raton Bowl win its first year, before slipping and finishing last season 5-7. Going into the game against Marshall, the team had completed a four-game winning streak and was looking for consecutive victory number five.
Officiating across many leagues has come under fire this year. There have been numerous games already in the NFL that have had questionable results from the refs’ performances and it seems to have spread into college football. It is probably no coincidence that all of the troubles are starting after a wave of legalized sports gambling has begun across the US, with no state willing to give leagues the “integrity fee” they desperately clamored for after the Supreme Court reversed PASPA in May of last year.