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.
5. No calls are better than incorrect calls. In the grading system used on officials, incorrect calls cost more than no calls.
A no call could simply be that you didn't see the infraction. Or you did see it, but didn't believe you saw enough elements (go back to the holding) to warrant a call. But an incorrect call? Calling holding when there was no holding? Seeing something that wasn't there? That's much worse.
NFL head linesman Mark Hittner said, “A couple of incorrect calls a season knock you out of the playoffs.”
6. Context matters; not all penalties are created equal.
Officials don't call every penalty they see.
“We don't call holds that aren't at the point of attack,” said NFL line judge Mark Perlman. “Personal fouls, we call anywhere on the field.”
Better for an official to go up to a player after a foul away from the ball and say, hey, I saw that, stay away from that, than throw a flag for an act that had nothing to do with the play.
“A foul called 25 yards away from the ballcarrier, we want to see a huge foul,” said Hittner.
7. Umpires will be staying put.
NFL umpires moved out of the middle of the action and now are in the backfield with the referee. College umpires thought the same thing would happen to them, but a decision in June has kept them in the vicinity of the middle linebacker.
“No one wanted that,” said the Mountain West's Rivera.
No official wanted it in the NFL, said Anderson. The move was not made for safety reasons.
“A few people wanted to get umpires out of the way for pass routes,” Anderson said.
The result was more freedom for receivers, but no watchdog in the middle.
“There's no defensive holding anymore,” Anderson said, exaggerating only slightly. “That was the tradeoff. They were willing to give that up.”
8. Chop blocks are the most missed call.
Chop blocks are when a blocker goes low on a defender who is already engaged up high by another blocker.
“It's almost to the point, let's leave it alone,” Anderson said, meaning just never call it. “Statistically, we'd be better off leaving it alone.”
Anderson said with so many stretch plays in college football, it's hard for officials to see who has engaged a defender and who hasn't.
“You don't want to be guessing,” Hittner said. “You gotta make sure you can see high contact and the other guy going low.”
Chop blocks are not the most missed call by percentage. “Two years ago, we called illegal contact to the center three times,” Anderson said. “Missed all three.”
9. Officials eavesdrop. Some coaches alert officials about trick plays or special formations. And some officials try to stay on top of things through espionage.
“If the kicking team is on my sideline, I like to get in their huddle,” said NFL side judge Greg Meyer. “Figure out what they're doing.”
He didn't mean brazenly walk into the huddle. He meant use his status as a striped shirt, with free access to go most anywhere, as a chance to listen incognito and prepare himself for what comes next.
10. Onside kicks are almost impossible to officiate. I know what you're thinking; Oklahoma-Oregon.
But after listening to the officials, you understand why it was such chaos up in Eugene. You don't understand the replay fiasco, but you understand the confusion on the field.
“You can't practice 'em,” said Meyer. “No one ever does 'em in scrimmages.”
And sometime check out how the seven officials are aligned on an apparent onside kick. Six out of bounds, two each at the 30-, 35- and 40-yard lines to check for offsides, illegal touching and possession. Only one official back deep.
Meyer's best advice? “Stay (back) off the sideline as much as you can, give yourself a chance to rule on the chaos,” Meyer said. “The only way you can handle onside kicks, spend enough time in pre-game to have enough confidence to know what everybody's doing.”
And take your time. “You'll get killed if you rush in there and try to rule on the play. Take care of yourself.”
And if the kicking team tosses a curveball and kicks deep, with six officials from the other 30- to 40-yard line? “Run like hell,” Meyer said. “And you'll do that, because you'll be excited it's not an onside kick.”
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.