Despite all the negative comments about the Big 12 lately (and yes there are still 12, by the way, for another season), there are some things the conference does that deserve kudos. One of those items is the invitation to broadcast crews of league schools the conference threw out for the first time to attend a day of this week's College Football Officials (CFO) annual conference in Irving. It's a gathering of all officials from the Big 12, Mountain West, Conference USA, Southland, SWAC and a few other collegiate stripers.
If nothing else, the week clearly shows how seriously these guys take their jobs and their commitments to constantly improve the officiating in their leagues.
For example, each position (Referee, Umpire, Back Judge, etc.) is required to attend all-day breakout sessions weeding through countless video clips of calls that were (or weren't) made the previous season with quizzes about whether the calls were clearly correct, clearly wrong, marginally correct, marginally wrong, or were so gray it could go either way (sorry about that little rhyme).
From a broadcast perspective, the media session led by coordinator of officials Walt Anderson was well worth the time on a hot, humid Saturday in July. New rules were explained and examples clearly shown through the magic of all the video cameras that capture college football today.
One rule change that will have an immediate impact... as in the opening kickoffs of the season... is the "wedge" rule. No longer can kick-return teams bring three or more players together with the "intent" to form a wedge to block the kick-cover team.
It's a rule copied from the NFL. And this is going to be a severe penalty - 15 yards from where the foul occurred or from where the runner was downed, whichever is worse. Walt showed us that most of these infractions will occur well within the 30 yard line, so most would incur half the distance to the goal, no matter how many yards the returner gains. And here's the kicker (every pun intended)... if this rule had been in place last season, 70% of all kickoffs in college football would have been flagged. 70%!! I know, coaches have been informed during the offseason, so that number should go way down as players are taught not to form the wedge...but...for all these years they've all been taught to group together, so expect it to take a while to burn into the heads of some of these special teamers (plus you'd expect a coach or two to test the officials on this one early in the year!).
One other tidbit I found very interesting was the affect the "bubble screen" pass has had on the Umpires in college football. Because the play, which is thrown to the receiver at the line of scrimmage with receivers and/or a lineman or two in front as blockers, often comes back to the middle of the field and causes a pile of players where the Umpire is normally positioned, one breakout session dealt with how the Umpires could best protect themselves and still be in a proper position to see their respective responsibilities of the field. Of course, Tech has been one of the teams using the bubble screen regularly in the Air Raid offense.
In fact, seeing Jones AT&T appear on the video clips and some of the calls from last year explained in detail and shown from a variety of angles certainly shed a new light on what some of the officials were seeing, or not seeing, during the instance the play occurs, at a speed few of us can imagine. Of course, as a broadcaster for a team that led the league in penalties during the past decade, the hope is that the new regime in Lubbock will have a little different perspective on avoiding penalties to begin with!
But the most enjoyable part of the day was listening to some of the NFL's most colorful officials (the sessions are taught by NFL past and present) like Red Cashion and Jerry Markbreit. These guys made a name for themselves adding a little pizzaz and personality to the mechanical nature of the job. And hearing their comments, grading the referees of these leagues, and sharing ways to improve their efforts was entertaining and refreshing.
Kudos to the Big 12 and the officials for sharing the learning sessions. Let's hope the season is as penalty free as the day with the guys (and gals - yes there are a couple in other leagues) in stripes.