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Lessons learned at Big 12 officiating clinic

by Berry Tramel Published: July 13, 2011
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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 btramel@opubco.com. 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.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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