Dennis was ejected from last Friday night’s win over Senatobia by an officiating crew that thought he threw a punch and then said he cursed at an official.
LHS coach Anthony Hart didn’t believe that Dennis had done any of those things and had a copy of the game film sent to the MHSAA on Monday in the attempt to get the decision reversed.
The MHSAA was scheduled to make a ruling on the suspension Monday. The decision was then postponed until Tuesday and then Wednesday morning. The final verdict came down on Wednesday afternoon, approximately 24 hours before the No. 1 Commodores host North Pontotoc at William L. Buford Stadium.
The original decision to suspend Dennis for the majority of the first quarter was upheld, although the MHSAA told Hart the first of two 15-yard penalties that were called on Dennis at Senatobia shouldn’t have been. Hart said he asked why they decided to uphold their decision if one of the two calls shouldn’t have been levied against Dennis. He explained that if there was no reason for one to exist, then why was his star running back going to have to sit?
According to Hart, the MHSAA official said he had not thought about it from that perspective, told Hart they would continue to look at the decision and hung up the phone. A short time later, Hart received a return call saying the decision would remain and that the both of the 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties were justified, thus maintaining the original reasoning for the suspension.
What this decision has reminded me, and hopefully will teach those LHS fans and others that read this, is just how inconsistent the MHSAA tends to be regarding scenarios like this. The state’s governing body on high school athletics and activities has long been criticized for its inability to make impartial decisions based on facts and this latest one can be chalked up in that category.
There have been countless times in the past where the MHSAA has told school districts that it was unable to make a decision on the start of a game, game changes and most importantly, how a game or activity is officiated. What the suspension of Dennis ultimately boils down to is the MHSAA’s refusal to find fault with an officiating crew that clearly lost control of last week’s Region 2-4A contest.
There have been multiple eyewitness accounts of how poor the game was being officiated and managed. There are photos of both Hart and Senatobia coach Phil Oakley showing immense displeasure about various calls and the way the game was unfolding. Those are blatant grievances in my opinion and if a crew can’t set the tone of the game early or gain control after an initial incident, then they need to be replaced and held out a week or two.
I’ve covered two games this year where officials have lost control of the game and made critical errors that cost our local teams. The incident with Dennis is a third one to add to the list.
Officials are human and they make mistakes, but they also need to be subjected to the same checks and balances the coaches and players are. Their mistakes have to be evaluated as well in order for this system to truly be fair and unbiased. Officials shouldn’t get a free pass from the MHSAA just because the organization is afraid that reprimands may lose them some officials. The critical thing to remember here is if the officials aren’t doing a good job, why do they need to be out there any longer? Crews need to be rewarded for their ability and not when mistakes are made. It’s as simple as that. Decisions should not be based on politics and who is friends with the assigning secretary of the district.
Fans, parents, coaches and school administrators have the ability to make sure these issues are being dealt with accordingly. Revenue from games are directly funding the officials and the MHSAA, so there is a tremendous amount of power that can be used to make sure the system stays balanced for everyone involved, including the ones that are supposed to be in charge of the games in the first place. (October 27, 2011, Page 6)