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.