Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 32
Not so black and whiteBeing a football official isn't as easy as it looks
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
The human appendix is one of those things we never really notice is there, until something goes wrong. Similarly, football referees are something we pay little attention to—until they screw up.
In light of some recent questionable calls in the NFL, football referees have gained some unpleasant notoriety, making it painstakingly clear that football officiating isn’t something just anyone can do.
According to the Referee’s Association, 13 basic rules were created in 1863 to guide referees in making calls. For the first half of football history, only three officials were used to referee games with just a basic rulebook to guide them—no microphones, no complex rules, and no replay.
Nowadays, officials at any level are required to understand a multitude of rules, each with as many as 12 subcategories dealing with formations, conduct, equipment, clock rules, and replays. Over the years, the game of football has evolved into an intense, high-energy, complex sport. As football’s popularity grew and the game changed, the demand for knowledgeable officials increased. Whether someone wants to officiate in Pop Warner or at the NFL, he or she has to meet a certain set of requirements and training.
“There is no royal road to becoming a referee,” said Rogers Redding, College Football Officiating (CFO) national coordinator and editor for the NCAA Football Rules Committee. “You just have to get started and work your way up.”
According to Rich Kollen, director of Southern California Community College Officials—whose jurisdiction includes Northern Santa Barbara County, including Allan Hancock College games—prospective referees are put through extensive training before they’re even allowed to handle an actual game. To get certified, hopefuls must complete more than 16 hours of training, attend clinics, pass several rules tests and a classification exam, spend time with trainers, and officiate at least three scrimmages before the real fun begins. But the training doesn’t stop after certification.
“Every year, officials have to attend mandatory trainings throughout the year, meet every other week, and review video material,” Kollen said. “In addition, they have to pass rules tests and attend class sessions on mechanics.”
Before they’re allowed on the field, Kollen said, officials need to have a basic understanding of rules and player formations. A lot of what officials learn comes from on-the-job experience, and there’s a lot more to officiating a game than meets the eye.
“The average person doesn’t realize the time and effort a person puts into being a referee—and it’s done out of a love for football,” Kollen said.
Joey Renner, a technician at Vandenberg Air Force Base, began officiating at the high school level shortly after finishing his own football career. He’s been a referee for local high school games for 12 years, and he said every year gets more difficult.
“Varsity games are getting much quicker, and each division has a different set of rules,” Renner said. “Not to mention the rules change every year, so there is always more to learn.”
Renner remembered how nerve wracking it was to officiate football games in the beginning. Before every play, officials go through a “pre-snap routine.” They have to count players on the field, and think about what down it is and what that entails, making sure receivers are covered and monitoring the play clock.
“There is a lot going on between the coaches, the crowd, and the game itself,” Renner said.
Outside of his full-time job, Renner has to attend two-hour meetings every other week, study game film every Wednesday, and occasionally donate an hour of time to mandatory testing. On average, he said, most high school officials spend more than five hours a week, not including game time, preparing and studying material.
Officiating at the junior college level requires the same training requirements, but the level of play is dramatically different and demands a more experienced official, Director Kollen explained. Officials must have at least five years’ experience at the high school level before moving on to the college ranks.
“We currently have 230 junior college officials with more than 30 new applications coming in every year,” he said.
Community college referee Will Reed has been officiating games locally for 15 years, and is now going on his sixth year at the junior college level. Reed works for the City Housing Department of Oxnard, but refereeing is his part-time job. He puts in 15 hours of studying and review outside of game time.
Reed, who played football at every level and was an active member on the San Francisco 49ers practice roster, said officials have to be “rules people” and have a working knowledge of the game of football.
For any referee, he said, the most important thing is staying in the game mentally.
“Every snap, every down, you have to stay focused—because if something happens and you don’t see it, that could decide the game,” Reed said.
At the junior college level, Reed said, competition steps up even more because the players get bigger and faster. If referees have what it takes—10 years’ minimum experience at the high school level—they can move on to officiating at Division I and II football.
“College refs are put through a lot of training; a lot of it they learn through live application and on the job training,” Reed said. “This is the only profession where you are expected to start out perfect.”
In the NCAA, there are seven officials on the field, each assigned to cover certain players and zones. According to the NCAA Football Rules Committee’s Redding, officials watch a ton of video, run through game situations, and spend two hours prior to kick-off going through the phases of a game.
But outside of their rule-enforcing duties, Redding said, referees are also responsible for helping maintain the flow of the game, as well as keeping players and coaches from getting out of hand, in addition to ensuring the safety of all parties involved.
While referees all down the line agree that knowledge of the material is paramount, there are certain characteristics a referee needs to have to survive. Emotional separation, accurate decision making under pressure, and thick skin are the most crucial. According to Redding, officials always have to be in control of their temper and generally have excellent people skills.
“Everyone will make mistakes; officials can’t dwell on it and let it impact another play,” Redding said. “I’ve worked hundreds of games, and they are always challenging.”
And despite the trials and tribulations, referees agree they do what they do out of a love for football and as a way to give back to the game.
“I enjoy the game of football; it’s given me so opportunities,” Reed said. “Being able to watch the game evolve and give back to it—that’s the benefit of officiating.”
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell rarely makes a bad call. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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