IRVING, Texas — College football coaches occasionally lose their cool on the sidelines.
They yell at players. They yell at each other. They yell at officials. Our own Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy can chew out a head linesman with the best of ‘em. But for the most part, referee-riding hasn’t dissolved into anarchy. This isn’t basketball.
And the football rules committee wants to make sure it never is.
That’s why sideline decorum is a point of emphasis for the 2014 season. Walt Anderson, an NFL referee and the Big 12’s director of officiating, has instructed his officials to keep the game under control. And that means limiting the verbal abuse and the emotional showmanship from coaches.
“The game is very popular,” Anderson said last weekend at the clinic of the CFO West, the college football officiating organization that coordinates training for the Big 12, Mountain West and several lower-division conferences. “The emotion of the game is one of the reasons it is so popular. But what we are trying to do, we’ve got to get the game back under control.”
Anderson mostly is talking image. College basketball has lost all decorum. Coaches complain and scream and carry on virtually from the opening tip. It cuts into the credibility of the sport. NBA officials don’t allow such antics.
The NFL, like college football, has its moments — Jim Harbaugh, we’re talking to you — but mostly keeps a lid on coaches. And that’s what college football wants to do, too. Prevent more sliding down the behavior slope.
“We allow a lot of latitude in terms of allowing emotion to be freely expressed,” Anderson said. “But what the rules committee is saying, they’re seeing more and more of coaches coming out onto the field to question officials. We’re not going to allow a coach to visually confront an official outside... their team areas. This is a foul. We need to work on getting this more under control.”
A stoic coach can stand on the sidelines and rip the line judge, and it’s unknown to anyone besides the two of them and whoever’s on the other end of the coach’s headset.
“But it’s a different thing if he runs out six, seven yards onto the field,” Anderson said. “It’s damaging to the image of the game. We’re allowing things to get out of control. This is what we want to work on. What it stems from is the appearance on television you’re trying to create in a ballgame. Coaches are going to be... emotional. How far do you allow emotion to go before it becomes interference or the potential of intimidation?”
College football has taken two measures this season to alleviate said potential.
1) It has put more teeth into the sideline warning. Coaches who get out of their appointed area, between the 25-yard lines, are subject to a non-penalized warning, followed by a series of penalties for subsequent infractions. However, an egregious confrontation with an official can draw an immediate 15-yard penalty.
Anderson said he understands the evolution of the game, with placards and as many as three assistants signaling plays. “We don’t have a problem with a step or two onto the field, while the ball’s not in play,” Anderson said. “But they gotta be off before the next play.”
Same with the sideline area. “We’re not going to throw the flag if they’re at the 24 instead of the 25,” Anderson said. “But they’re creeping, creeping, creeping. Down to the 18-yard line. That’s what we’ve got to work bringing back under control.
“We want to continue talking. We’re going to tell coaches, just like we do normally, ‘Coach, you gotta help me.’ You can’t be at the 18-yard line. Your area is the 25.’”
Anderson told his officials: “We want you to talk to ‘em. At some point, though, if coaches are continually getting into our space, then we’re going to bring back the formal warning. Just general sideline space maintenance, if you will.”
2) Head linesmen and side judges — the officials who set up on opposite ends of the line of scrimmage — will swap sides of the field after halftime. Until now, they stayed on the same side of the field the entire game. Which means each had the same head coach complaining the entire game.
The benefits? “So that one coach’s not in someone’s ear for 60 minutes,” Anderson said. “And the coach will have somebody new to talk to.”
Anderson’s office tracks all kinds of penalties and trends. “We track the fouls and tendencies of officials, trying to determine is there an unnatural pattern with a guy that’s always got calls on the other team as opposed to always making calls on his sideline?” Anderson said.
“If it’s always the same person, eating on you, eating on you, does it have an effect? The answer for a lot of people is yes. We start seeing a trend, drilling down, is it an aberration? We’ve addressed it with officials. But that’s just not acceptable.”
Anderson told his officials he doesn’t care if a coach disagrees with their call. That’s fine. But flagrant, theatrical displeasure is what needs to be curtailed.
“I would be tickled to death if we can just get the ones that are obvious,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of like the definition of pornography. You kind of know it when you see it. We’ve got to get this under control. We don’t want you to quit what you’re doing to look around. When it presents itself to you, you’ll know it.”
And Anderson gives the coaches this much: they are committed. Right or wrong, a coach believes in what he’s doing, whether it’s running a spread offense or straightening out a back judge.
Anderson wants his officials to be the same. Committed.
“It’s not a trick, but in terms of communication, the most effective thing you can do, is when you talk to anybody ...look him right in the eye,” Anderson said. “Tell him what you were thinking. Look him right in the eye. Too many times when we’re communicating, we fail to present a picture of confidence with our own actions.
“If you don’t make eye contact with someone, the signal you send is, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. The coach is going to have a position on every play. If you can’t defend it, you don’t deserve to be out there.”
Look the coach right in the eye, walk him back to the sideline if necessary and take no guff. Don’t let football turn into basketball.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.