KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Here's what I learned at the Big 12 officiating clinic last weekend. There is more about officiating football that I don't know, than I do know.
That's probably not all that revelating. The same could be said for most of us about football playing, football coaching, football writing, heck, football fandom. If we're not on the inside, we don't know what it's like.
But for a day, at least, I was on the inside. And in honor of the new Big 12, here are 10 things I learned.
1. Get comfortable with all those unnecessary roughness penalties for blows to the head; they're not going away.
“When in question, whether it's high or not, it's high,” said Walt Anderson, the Big 12's supervisor of officials and an NFL referee. “We tell coaches, we're going to make some mistakes on this, but that's OK. Yeah, we're going to break some eggs. We want those kinds of hits out of the game.”
Anderson tossed out an example of the heavy emphasis on the rule. Clipping once was an epidemic. Now it's almost completely gone. Hardly anyone clips.
“We've almost eliminated clipping from the game, because it was called so much,” Anderson said.
We've all seen big-time collisions that were penalized, even though the blow was by a shoulder to the shoulder. So what are defenders supposed to do?
“We need to teach kids to lower their strike zone,” Anderson said.
With his officials, Anderson reviewed the hit by Nebraska's Eric Martin on OSU's Andrew Hudson last October that resulted in Martin being suspended, even though no penalty was called on the play.
“Kickoffs are a specific play where we're seeing more and more of these acts,” Anderson said. “Guys (running) in lanes; targeting a guy, running east-west. Changing direction, leans head, comes in high. We're going to miss some of these. But this was not only a foul, but a flagrant foul.”
The key term is defenseless. A receiver just before or after trying to catch a pass. A quarterback in the pocket. A blindsided player in the open field. Hit a defenseless player anywhere near the head, and the flag is flying.
2. Holding is misnamed. Holding is not grabbing. Remember the old saying, you could call holding on every play? Not so. Not in the 21st century.
Holding should be called “restricting.” That's what officials look for. Every blocker grabs. Grab a defender and just hold on, and you're OK. Grab a defender and restrict him, and the flag should be on its way.
In fact, there are five ways to commit holding.
* Grabbing and restricting.
* Jerking and pulling the defender back.
* Hooking with an extended arm and restricting.
* Grabbing and twisting.
Officials don't always watch the blockers to check for holding. In fact, they shouldn't.
“Don't watch the offensive blocker,” said NFL line judge Byron Boston, supervisor of officials for the Southland Conference. “The offensive blocker is going to be holding (grabbing). Watch the defender. When we evaluate a game, what we're looking for is the restriction.”
Here's one way to keep officials accountable. You want to call holding? Fine. Call it. But then you have to note it on your game report and explain why you called it. Which of those five restrictions did you see?
Said Boston, “It's very important to tell us what it is you saw.”
3. Special-teams coaches should be very aggressive in 2011. A new rule negates roughing the kicker if the perpetrator is blocked into the kicker.
“You're off the hook,” said Ken Rivera, the Mountain West Conference's supervisor of officials. “As special teams coach, I'm sending the house.”
Officials expect teams to quit using that spread punt formation that allows rushers easy penetration only to find a wall of three blockers waiting. Rivera said he thinks officials will interpret the new rule as any contact with a blocker, just before hitting the punter or kicker, frees the rusher from responsibility.
“It's going to be easier for refs to manage that play,” Rivera said.
4. Offensive pass interference is more difficult to call than defensive pass interference.
Collegiate Sports Officiating grades performance by a variety of measures, including type of penalty. Last season, the success rate on defensive interference was 96-97 percent. That dropped to 82-83 percent on offensive interference.
Offensive interference can be so questionable, officials don't even agree when watching replay. In the training video sent out by the national board, a play in the Southern Miss-Louisville game was shown as an example of when to call offensive interference. But two instructors at the Big 12 clinic disagreed with the video conclusion, saying it wasn't offensive interference.