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Football Officials Evaluation Unparalleled
September 30, 2008
By Wendell Barnhouse
Big 12 Correspondent

Second in a three-part series

The officials' command center at the Big 12 offices is cool. Literally and figuratively.

The room in the lower level of the Irving, Texas building is air conditioned at about 65 degrees. When you have a room full of heat-producing computer servers, laptops and television screens, chilled air is the only way to go.

This command center is where officials are evaluated. Each week, game tapes from the Big 12 are broken down and graded. Each instant replay review is also evaluated and graded in a separate process.

While coaches and players spend the six days between games practicing and game planning, the officials are assessing their previous game's performance while preparing and trying to improve for the next game.

"It's like in any business, if you don't provide feedback on how they can improve, most of the time they will not improve," said Walt Anderson, an NFL referee who is the Big 12's supervisor of football officiating. "We can sum it up in two words: improved officiating.

"The greatest tool we've got is to use video to show them what they're doing right but also to find areas where they need to improve."

The Big 12's evaluation process is similar to the one used by the NFL. In the two years since Anderson has been the conference's supervisor of officials, the program has enhanced and expanded the process.

The command center has the capability of recording a dozen games. All of the games that have been recorded since last season are archived.

It takes seven to 10 hours for each game evaluation. Evaluators look at each play on the "coaches' tape" which provides a full-field view from a press box-level sideline camera and an end zone view. Some plays require multiple rewinds.

Every penalty is reviewed by the evaluator. A game report, filed by the referee, is available on the web site. Each penalty in the game report includes the explanation by the official who threw the flag. The evaluator reviews the play in question, assigns a numerical grade (1 is the lowest, 9 the highest; most penalty calls receive a 7) and makes comment.

Byron Boston, who officiates NFL games, is one of a dozen evaluators used by the Big 12. He sits facing a wall in the command center. Just above head level is a flat screen monitor. On the table is a keyboard, a mouse and the written play-by-play of the game he is breaking down.

Boston watches each play at least twice from the two angles on the coaches' tape. Some of what he's looking for: on kickoffs, offsides, illegal blocks; on pass plays, holding and linemen down field; on running plays, holding and chop blocks.

"The grading process involves the basics," he said. "I'm looking for if each official was watching his keys on each play, his mechanics, his judgments. I also look at the comments they made on their post-game report. It's more for training purposes than it is for criticism or second-guessing."

While Boston was breaking down a game, he was asked to look at a play from another contest. On a screen on the opposite wall, officiating supervisor Walt Anderson re-ran an end zone pass play multiple times before he and Boston concurred the officials decision not to throw a flag on the play was correct.

After a game has been evaluated and graded, each member of the officiating crew has access to the game report online and receives a DVD with the game tape the evaluator reviewed. The game tapes also are available on line but most officials prefer DVDs because they can review games on their laptops in preparation for their next game.

Anderson is demure when asked if the Big 12's evaluations methods are better than those used by other Division I-A conferences.

"We feel like it's our responsibility to develop as comprehensive and as complete a program as we can," he said. "Each conference has a common goal to improve officiating nation wide. We're not in competition with each other. We share ideas, thoughts and methods.

"Fortunately, we have a conference that's committed to this. Nobody is going to do a better job of officiating than we are. We're always going to make our officiating program the best it can be."

Upcoming: What it's like to spend a weekend with a Big 12 officiating crew.

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