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Uh, Let’s Just Say Bama Is Disciplined, When It Comes To Penalties

mrsec stat analysis newAround the SEC home office, we like to debunk conspiracy theories.  From time to time we’ve attempted to do as much with our stat analysis pieces.  This post fits that mold.

Tired of fielding questions about SEC officials’ alleged aversion to calling penalties against Alabama, we set out to see if the Crimson Tide really does have an advantage when it comes to flags.  We expected to find that Bama was somewhere in the middle of the pack in the area of penalty yards per game.

Well.  We were wrong.

Below are numbers from the last six SEC football seasons.  You’ll find each school’s total number of conference games played (including SEC and BCS title games), their penalty-yards-per-game average, and their total number of SEC wins between 2007 and 2012:

 

  School   SEC Gms   Penalty Yds/Gm   Total SEC Wins
  Missouri*   8   29.62   2
  Alabama   52   35.51   42
  Miss. State   48   41.33   19
  Vanderbilt   48   43.18   14
  Texas A&M*   8   44.25   6
  Kentucky   48   44.89   12
  S. Carolina   49   45.61   21
  Tennessee   49   47.87   18
  Ole Miss   48   48.22   13
  Auburn   49   50.20   23
  Arkansas   48   50.97   23
  LSU   51   52.70   36
  Florida   50   54.84   35
  Georgia   50   59.80   33

 

Ah, ha!  So SEC officials are protecting Missouri!

Actually, as noted, Missouri and Texas A&M have obviously played just one season of SEC football, so there numbers really can’t be compared to the other 12 schools yet.

As you can see, no other league school comes close to Alabama in terms of being a disciplined football team.  And that may indeed be the case.  Nick Saban has such a machine in place now that it’s not a stretch to believe that the Tide has been docked fewer penalty yards because as a team they are the most disciplined crew in the league.

But…

We all know that’s not what many, many fans will take away from these numbers.  They will see a conspiracy.  (Nevermind the fact that the SEC office handed Alabama a half-dozen games against teams coming off of open dates a few years back.)  There will be those who believe Mike Slive and company have instructed the league’s refs to go easy on the flags when Bama is involved.  (Nevermind the fact that 13 other college presidents who employ Slive might not be too fond of a “help Bama” scheme.)

But even if there is a conspiracy, it’s clear that penalty yardage per game is not a killer when it comes to SEC football.  Of the four teams with more than 30 wins over the last six seasons, three of them have been penalized the more yardage than anyone — LSU, Florida and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are among the least penalized programs in conference games.

We set out to debunk a myth, but our findings will likely only serve to fuel the “SEC helps Bama” conspiracy theory.  Well, we don’t buy into that, but the numbers are now yours for interpretation.

 


12 comments
BamaD1992
BamaD1992

If you're going to look at penalties per game/penalty yards per game, you also have to look at total plays per game. Logically, the more plays that occur, the more opportunities a team (either as the offensive team with the ball or defending their opponent) has to BE penalized. So logically, if a team consistently runs fewer plays than their opponent or rivals they're being statistically compared to, they will have fewer chances to be assessed a penalty over a period of time.


I looked up the total plays run/defended for SEC West teams from 2009-2012.

Total plays from scrimmage per game (average) during the last 4 years:

Arkansas 137 plays per game

Ole Miss 136

MSU 136

Auburn 135

LSU 130

Alabama 124

**I didn't include Texas A&M because there's only one year in the SEC to go on, but they'd probably skew toward the extremely high end coming from the Big 12 where more teams run HUNH and spread. (Same could be said for the SEC East, which has typically featured better offenses and worse defenses than the West.) 

So, Alabama (on average) has as many as 13 fewer plays per game than its most distant opponent in its division, and 6 fewer per game than its nearest. If you assume a team averages one penalty every 10-15 plays or so, and teams over the course of a season are running 100-150 more plays than Alabama, wouldn't one logically expect Alabama to have 10-15 fewer penalties a year based simply on statistical odds? That's not even taking preparation/talent/luck/paying the refs into account....

But real stats don't help feed conspiracy theories, so....

 

Mark1984
Mark1984

Explain the Dial situation last year.  The committee recommended that Dial should have been suspended for his hit on Murray but he was not.  He didn't even get flagged.  I could buy that in the heat of the moment, the ref was not watching, missed it, flubbed the play, etc.  But after the committee recommended suspending him and the SEC didn't...

Norton
Norton

I noticed that  Bama gets penalized less than the other team in bowl games and big non-conference games where non-SEC officials are used too.  What's up with that?

exactlyhello
exactlyhello

Tracer, so what you are saying is the SEC office instructed their refs to not call holding against Bama.  Exactly how does that work?  Do they get them all in a room or do they send out an email?

exactlyhello
exactlyhello

Two games.  Why did the refs not call Michael Williams catch, a catch in the Bama vs. LSU game?  Why did the refs call Bama offsides in the TAMU punt in their game last year, that killed any chance for Bama to win?  There are dozens of examples where calls went against Bama that either caused them to lose or caused them to almost lose.  You can't have it both ways.

Tracer Round
Tracer Round

Why don't you analyze offensive holding penalties on alabama versus everyone else?

I think they went eight games a couple years ago without one.

No one is that "disciplined", not even in the NFL.

Rex_Feral
Rex_Feral

I wonder if you could draw any connection between Georgia's penalty yards per game and their team celebration during the 2007 Florida game.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

@BamaD1992 

I sure wish someone could make a point without also making an ass of himself.  No one can simply state, "Here's my thought."  There's always a dig or an insult. 

John

MoKelly1
MoKelly1

I think they use Twitter nowadays.

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