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Kentucky AD sends letter to Pac-12 about Music City Bowl officiating

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) runs to the locker room after being ejected in the first half of the Music City Bowl NCAA college football game against Northwestern, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart really wants the Pac-12 to know he thinks the Music City Bowl was poorly officiated.

The AD has previously publicly stuck up for running back Benny Snell, who was ejected from the game. Snell got ejected after pushing the hands of referee Chris Coyte away after a hit that Coyte declined to flag as late. Coyte extended his hands towards Snell to help the running back up and Snell was having none of it.

And got ejected as a result.

This is how Benny Snell got tossed. (ESPN)

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In addition to tweeting his support of Snell, Barnhart sent the conference’s vice president of officiating a letter about the calls in the game. You can read it in full thanks to Kentucky.com here.

I will begin with the decision to eject sophomore running back Benny Snell for making contact with an official. Snell’s frustration over what he perceived to be a late hit and passion for the game are why he reacted the way he did, but he was not deserving of an ejection. The intent of the no-contact rule — protection of officials — was not adhered to in this case. Video of the incident does not support the call made on the field or the statement made by the officiating crew postgame and later supported by the Pac-12. Moreover, the character and intent of a quality young man in our program have been unfairly called into question.

The letter is dated Jan. 5, which is two days after Barnhart tweeted about Snell.

Barnhart also takes issue with the lack of a late hit call against quarterback Stephen Johnson, who was driven to the ground on the sidelines late in the first half and appeared to injure his shoulder. A late hit could have been called on that play as well and it was not. Kentucky was livid.

Specifically, head referee Chris Coyte seemed to have no care for our injured player or willingness to allow our team a few moments to prepare a substitute quarterback to replace him, which is normal protocol in such a situation. His interaction with our staff, in my opinion, did not meet the standards of professionalism needed to manage the difficult task of officiating a high-level college football game. In addition, as frustration mounted, line judge Tim Messuri similarly failed to meet those standards of professionalism. Messuri, hearing that frustration, screamed to our staff ‘Do you want some more of this?’ Threatening more penalties like the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on our bench in the midst of this incident.

Kentucky lost the game 24-23 after a late two-point conversion failed. And it’s worth noting that this isn’t a case of sour grapes from the losing team. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was unhappy with the officiating too as linebacker Paddy Fisher got ejected for targeting. Fitzgerald said at halftime that it might have been the worst call he’s ever seen. 

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!