KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Walt Anderson likes replay review.
You'd think instant replay would be the enemy of a football official. Who among us likes to be overruled? Who likes to be told we're wrong? Who likes technology to usurp our authority?
But Anderson, who as the referee in the most recent Super Bowl and the Big 12's coordinator of officials is the highest-statured zebra in football today, embraces replay.
For the best of reasons. He likes to get things right.
“I love instant replay,” Anderson said. “I think, in all honesty, it has helped us avoid interjecting officials into the game.”
Anderson's theory: replay keeps officials out of Monday (or Sunday) morning headlines. Fixes catastrophic missed calls.
“Our role is to officiate the game,” Anderson said. “It's not to be part of the game.”
It's easy to bash the refs. Easy to rail against a pass interference call or an excessive-celebration flag. Easy to demand the head of Jack Sisco or Gordon Riese or Ed Hochuli after a bobbling of gridiron justice.
But spend a day at the Big 12 officiating clinic, as I did last weekend, and you realize that officials are committed to getting things right.
That's not just a mantra. Not just a slogan. Their actions prove it.
Anderson blew his whistle at 8 a.m. Saturday, and the KCI Airport Hilton's ballroom grew quiet.
Time to get serious.
Big 12 football officials do not take their craft lightly. As intricate as coaches get with their players in terms of footwork and technique and split-second decision-making, instructors do the same with their officials.
Where exactly to stand on the goal line when a play comes your way? When should a line judge stick on the line of scrimmage and when should he float back with a retreating quarterback? When does an umpire have responsibility for an interior line play and when does he not?
All questions asked and answered and discussed, with the same attention to detail that a coach would require of his quarterback.
They attend multiple clinics in the offseason and volunteer to call practices and scrimmages in the spring and August. Then they report to their game location the night before and have intensive meetings and film studies leading up to kickoff.
Firefighters and dentists and school administrators by day, college football officials become keepers of the game. A sport that easily could descend into anarchy instead retains a sense of order, thanks to the men in striped shirts and the men who oversee them.
I've always had a problem with the accountability of officials. And still do, to some degree. If a 19-year-old quarterback can stand there and tell the world why he threw the ball to the other team, I don't know why a 49-year-old referee can't stand there and explain why a chop block suddenly gets called for the first time, in the 58th minute of a ballgame.
But Anderson has most definitely improved the transparency of Big 12 officiating. He's invited the media to his clinic. He's made himself readily available for inquiries, from both media and coaches. He comes clean on a variety of issues.
Like this. The new trend calling for officials to come down hard on hits to the head?
“We tell coaches, we're going to make some mistakes on this, but that's OK,” Anderson said. “Yeah, we're going to break some eggs. But we want those kinds of hits out of the game.”
Coaches might not like it, but they can't really argue that they haven't been warned. You've got to admire Anderson's forthrightness.
And it's not like the officials go out and make calls willy-nilly. They are heavily scrutinized by their evaluators.
Down to this. Call a major foul, like holding, and the official is required to report why he called it.
I sat in on a head linesman/line judge meeting. Byron Boston, an NFL line judge on Anderson's crew and the Southland's supervisor of officials, reported that Big 12, Mountain West and Southland line judges and head linesmen erred 313 times last season.
Sounds like a lot. Either an incorrect call or missed a penalty that should have been called.
But that averaged out between one and two a game. Per man, that's less than one missed call per game. Out of what, 180, 200 plays a game?
Truth is, Big 12 officiating is really good and getting better. I can't speak for any other league, but the Big 12 crews are solid. And in good hands.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.