J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the 2019 season. Will conferences rue transparency on officiating?
During a year in which officiating mistakes drew even more attention than usual — particularly in the Pac-12 — conferences began to consider ways to be more transparent in their communication with fans about questionable calls.
The Southeastern Conference hired accounting firm Deloitte to look into its officiating process. The Pac-12 hired Sibson Consulting to perform its review, which became unavoidable after the public backlash the conference received when it was revealed that Woodie Dixon, the Pac-12’s general counsel and football administrator, became involved in a replay review of a controversial targeting call in the Washington State-USC game.
Given college football’s natural leaning toward anything resembling the status quo, it was easy to wonder if these efforts would lead to real change or if they were just damage control.
On July 15, the SEC announced that it had launched its own Twitter account to address referee issues, @SECOfficiating.
“Hello, world,” the account’s first tweet said. “This account will serve as your source for rules, videos, statistics and activities inside the SEC Video Center. Go easy on us!”
Predictably, fans from all over the South took out years of pain and personal anguish on whoever was manning the @SECOfficiating account that day. We can only hope somebody out there found some catharsis.
All season now, in SEC games, we will be able to monitor the account and see just how much the league will be willing to share about incorrect calls. Conferences are going to hold their refs accountable more often, but are they really going to sell them out and expose them to potential threats or harm?
It’s interesting that the Pac-12, which has fan bases with much more relaxed temperaments, wasn’t willing to go as far as the SEC in creating a Twitter account to communicate with fans. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said at the league media day that he will be monitoring how it goes for the SEC.
The Pac-12 certainly would have been relieved it did not have a Twitter account last season when news leaked that Dixon, who is not a trained official, had stepped in to overturn a targeting call of a Washington State player’s head-to-head hit of defenseless USC quarterback JT Daniels.
The Sibson review of the Pac-12 officials produced key recommendations that will be implemented this season to keep that from happening again. The head of officiating will now report directly to Scott instead of a football administrator, so the buck will stop at the top. There will be improvements to training and grading of officials, too.
The only thing these leagues can’t change is that their referees are still humans. They’re going to make mistakes, and now the conferences will have to answer for them quicker, and, in the SEC’s case, in real time.
But the first time there’s a major Pac-12 gaffe — and history says it won’t take long into the first weekend — Scott is unlikely to have any regrets there is no @Pac12Officiating.