When the 2013 college football season gets started next August, Byron Boston will again become a regular visitor to the Big 12 Conference offices. Each week, he'll two days in the video room where he'll help critique the officials who worked the previous weekend's games.
Boston's critical eye is well-schooled and his advice to officials should be absorbed. He worked his second Super Bowl as a line judge last month and continues to be one of the NFL's top officials.
"If there are 220 plays in a game, we evaluate 220 plays," said Boston, who lives in Humble, Texas, which is near Houston. "On each play, we're looking at the mechanics and the judgment. We point out positives and negatives. There's an average of 14.4 penalties in a Big 12 game and an average of 180 plays. If we just analyzed those 14 plays with penalties, we wouldn't be doing a very good job of trying to get better."
Walt Anderson, the Big 12's coordinator of officiating, is also an NFL referee. Anderson and Boston have been friends for three decades. When Anderson took over as the Big 12 officiating coordinator, he wanted to increase and enhance the grading system. Boston was hired as the Big 12 supervisor of officials and has helped Anderson institute a system that mirrors how the NFL evaluates its officials.
Officiating can be a flash point with fans but the numbers show that the Big 12 has consistently improved. Based on the Accuracy Measure that the NFL uses, Big 12 officials were accurate 98.40 percent of the time in 2012. NFL numbers aren't available for last season, but in 2011 NFL officials' accuracy was measured at 98.47; the Big 12 officials in 2011 measured at 98.08.
"We have 14 to 15 NFL officials who help us grade the games," Boston said. "And we take it another step, we have a double check system. Walt and I will then go in and grade the grader to make sure we're sending a consistent message to the officials."
When his NFL schedule allows, Boston travels with a selected Big 12 crew weekend and observes the game first hand from the press box. In those cases, he'll meet with the officiating crew and offer a first-hand critique.
"We don't call it a grading system," said Boston, who in 2007 was named coordinator of officials for the Southland Conference. "It's an evaluating and training system. The goal is to have consistent officiating. In addition to critiquing and analyzing each penalty that's called, we'll typically make about 40 to 50 comments on other plays."
In addition to matching two brothers as head coaches and an exciting finish, Super Bowl XLVII will be remembered for a power outage in the Superdome that suspended play for 34 minutes.
"Your typical NFL halftime is 12 minutes; the Super Bowl halftime is 35 minutes," Boston said. "So, we not only had a halftime break that's longer than normal, but then we had played just a minute and a half few minutes in the third quarter when we were delayed.
"It takes a toll on you mentally and physically. We all had to refocus quickly and get back into the game and fortunately it became very competitive. That always helps."
Boston's first experience in the NFL's Big Game came in Super Bowl XXXIV. He was working with a crew who had all been in the NFL for at least 20 years. Three members of that crew had worked five Super Bowls and another who had worked three.
In New Orleans, Boston was the only member of the crew who had Super Bowl experience.
"Being a senior guy on the crew, I tried to talk to the other guys and explain to everybody that at the end of the week, there's still gonna be a game we need to work," he said. "It's a week-long event. Normal game during the season, come in on Saturday. At the Super Bowl there are plenty of activities for you and your family. You have to pace yourself."
The officials prepare for the game like they do any other but there is much more pomp and circumstance at a Super Bowl. The officials are part of a dress rehearsal Thursday that includes the opening coin toss ceremony.
"There are about 30 people out there for the coin toss and you've got to make sure everything happens on schedule," Boston said. "They rehearse the National Anthem, America the Beautiful. They want to make sure everybody knows what they're doing and where they're going."
Super Bowl officials are selected based on merit. After the regular season, the top three referees, umpires, line judges, etc., are selected to work the two championship games and the Super Bowl. In 18 years, Boston has earned his selection to seven championship games and two Super Bowls.
"Being in the top three in nine of the 18 seasons I've been in the NFL, I feel pretty good about the career I've had," he said.
And in his work with the Big 12, he's helping other officials be the best that they can be.