Big Ten officiating review released

Big Ten staff, athletic directors and football coaches recently concluded a comprehensive review of the conference's football officiating program.

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The Big Ten released, Thursday morning, the results of a comprehensive review of conference officiating that began at the behest of Penn State University. Penn State requested the review after coach Joe Paterno expressed displeasure with officiating calls in several games last season. The Big Ten reviewed officiating last winter and began the process for this comprehensive review in March. The Big Ten has decided to maintain its current procedures for assigning officials to games, but will take a more active role identifying officials in other conferences that could work in the Big Ten. The league will also begin a pilot program to experiment with instant replay this season. The replay results will not have a bearing on games and the results will not be released to the public.

In the aftermath of several games involving controversial officiating calls, Penn State Athletics Director Tim Curley asked the Big Ten office to conduct a comprehensive review of officiating, including training and assessment, as well as a review of several officiating calls occurring during previous seasons. Penn State's request, related to particular officiating calls and crew assignments, was responded to by the Conference office in January of 2003.

Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany directed the comprehensive review. The Big Ten stated in a press release Thursday that the review "consisted of a historical and in-depth analysis of conference practices and procedures related to the recruitment, training, assigning and retention of officials." Coordinator of Football Officials David Parry took the lead in the collection of data and development of benchmarks from nine other NCAA Division I-A conferences, eight I-AA conferences and the National Football League (NFL). All 11 Big Ten head football coaches and Big Ten athletic directors had input and contributed perspective at a one-day officiating summit held at the conference's Park Ridge office in March, and again at their regularly-scheduled spring meeting in Chicago in May.

As a result of this ongoing process, the Big Ten announced:

  1. After extensive internal review, and comparisons with other Division I-A conferences and the NFL officiating programs, the Big Ten determined its overall football officiating program was at the forefront of training, evaluation and accountability. As evidence of this conclusion, 17 Big Ten-trained officials have advanced to the NFL in the last 12 years – at least 25 percent more than from any other conference during this same period.
  2. In an effort to increase training opportunities for officials, Big Ten coaches agreed that portions of their spring practices and games, along with fall camp, should be staffed by Conference officials.
  3. Working with other Division I-A and I-AA Midwestern / Eastern conferences to improve and identify aspiring officials.
  4. How Big Ten officials are assigned will not be changed. Officials will continue to be assigned by crew and the conference will make every effort to establish equal crew quality. The conference believes in the integrity of each official therefore officials generally will not be limited from working games based on their residence. This is the standard in the NFL as well as in every other Division I-A conference.
  5. It was unanimously approved by the Conference Administrators Council in May that the Big Ten will develop and experiment with a pilot program of instant replay in selected games during the 2003 Conference season. NFL standards for implementing the use of replay will serve as the building blocks for executing the pilot program. This is a data-gathering and evaluation exercise only; game action will not be affected and outcomes of plays will not be changed as current college football rules do not allow for television replay to review officials' calls. The data will be evaluated and reviewed at season's end by Conference office staff and Big Ten administrators and coaches.  This information will not be made public.

In applying NFL video replay standards to the previous season, the Big Ten study indicated that approximately 15-20 officiating calls/plays would have been reversed using replay. The total number of calls/plays in a season is more than 13,000. Additionally, the Big Ten research indicated that the number of officiating flaws per game (an average of approximately four per game) was comparable in 2002 to previous years. In most years, the Big Ten average appeared to be less than the number which occurred in peer conferences and slightly more than the NFL's per game average. This conclusion is a somewhat open issue in that each conference has its own definition of officiating flaws. The Big Ten definition tends to be relatively demanding and most similar to the NFL standard (applying slow-motion video, which includes three camera angles – sideline, end zone and the television broadcast view).

"Our goal coming out of the 2002 season was to gain a fair and accurate accounting of where this Conference was with respect to its football officiating programs," Delany said.  "And while officials are human and sometimes err, we believe that the integrity of our officiating program and the policies and procedures for identifying, training and accountability are at the highest level in intercollegiate football.

"Our officiating program should and does reflect the same kind of high standards and expectations that are the hallmarks of Big Ten football tradition.

"After going through the process of review and inspection, I asked our coaches and athletic directors to view this program as ‘their own', not one separated from them. Therefore as we all have confidence that we are all working to get better – players, coaches, administrators and officials -- there should also be the presumption that we have highly-trained, honorable men doing their level-best to make the correct call in each of the 13,000 plays which occur throughout the season," Delany added.

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