Hey folks, Bud Withers here, squeezing myself into Condotta’s space. The only time he doesn’t blog is when he’s in airspace and has flight attendants and pilots barking at him for a laptop turned on. While he was getting ready to wing it down to LA for Tuesday’s first Pac-12 football media day, I got here earlier in the day and attended a seminar put on by the new brass in the revamped conference officiating program.
Tuesday is when the league’s coaches and a top player from each program discuss their outlooks for the 2011 season. I’m told that an announcement is close — within a couple of weeks, at least — from commissioner Larry Scott on the new Pac-12 TV network. Could it come Tuesday? You wouldn’t think Scott would want to upstage the ceremonial arrival of Colorado and Utah into the league — the first expansion in 33 years in one of the most stable conferences in the country. On the other hand, if it’s a done deal, he might find the occasion too irresistible, what with lots of media gathered and the league’s stock never higher after the blockbuster TV deal Scott engineered in May with Fox and ESPN that starts with the 2012-13 academic year. Remember, the Pac-12’s network is supposed to feature more quality games than, for instance, the Big Ten has been able to offer, which means more ad revenue, which means more cash for each program. So the network is a big deal not only for your access to games, but to the health of the Pac-12 athletic departments.
On to the officiating issues. You’ll recall that over the winter, Scott ousted Dave Cutaia, the league’s coordinator of officials, and hired Mike Pereira, former vice president of officiating for the NFL, to lay groundwork for a revamped program in the league. That resulted in the June hire of Tony Corrente, a southern Californian with considerable on-field NFL officiating experience, to become the league’s coordinator of officials, with Pereira staying on in his consultant’s role until February.
The league has added 18 officials, mostly from the Big 12, Mountain West and WAC, but also a couple who have done smaller-conference games in the Northwest. It also dropped 11 officials.
“In reality, it wasn’t what the Pac-12 deserved,” Pereira said candidly, referring to the level of officiating previously. “Was it the worst? No. But it wasn’t what the Pac-12 deserved.”
The media session Monday evening underscored some rules changes, one of which is going to be drawing heavy scrutiny — especially the first time an ostentatious player runs afoul of it.
In the past, an excessive-celebration penalty for showboating on the way to a touchdown didn’t negate the score. Now it will. As Corrente explained it, if the act happens on the 2-yard line going in, the team gets assessed 15 yards and assumes possession on the 17. Needless to say, that could be game-changing.
“I really feel you probably won’t see any of these any longer,” said Corrente, saying he thinks coaches will be “drumming into players’ heads” that they can’t take such a risk.
The officiating brass produced a copy of the rules that helps define such unsportsmanlike-conduct fouls, and it includes things like taunting or pointing the ball at an opponent. In general, it also takes in acts that call attention to oneself.
Problem is, there will always be gray areas, and there will be officials who call things to the letter. My complaint over a lot of years of Pac-10 football watching is that too many refs have been like Miss Manners in calling penalties, including excessive-celebration. Who can forget Jake Locker’s harmless fling of the ball away against Brigham Young in 2008, when he was wrongly whistled for a flag that had a heavy part in a UW loss?
The good news is, there are indications this will be a kinder, gentler league in that area. Pereira, in fact, cited the Locker play, and called it “an over-exaggeration of the rules, clearly.” He also mentioned a directive that seems to fit the Locker play perfectly — “Do not be overly technical in applying [rule] 9.2.1 — allow for a brief, spontaneous reaction.”
Other rules changes no doubt will come into play, including one that may be a headache for coaches. This one will try to take away the “crackback” block, in which a defender outside the tackle-to-tackle box is blocked below the waist by an unseen offensive player. The rule creates the principle of “adjacent” and “non-adjacent” sidelines. Essentially, players on the right side of the center can block upfield or to the right sideline below the waist, but not to the left sideline (outside the tackle box) because there’s a greater chance they won’t be seen. No doubt, it’s going to take coaches some time to explain it and get it across.
And there now will be a college version of the NFL’s 10-second runoff — the NCAA will call it a 10-second subtraction — so that a team willing to take a flag to stop the clock at the end of a game or half could lose the 10 seconds and see the game end.
Pereira also introduced Dean Blandino, who will head the replay system. Blandino has 14 years’ experience with the NFL, and, said Pereira, “He trained all of the replay assistants in the NFL.”
Referring to the considerable NFL experience in administering the Pac-12 officiating program, Pereira said, “This officiating program will be the model of officiating programs across the country.”