College football is being played at such a frenetic pace these days that it needs another set of eyes to see everything, at least that is the belief of the Big 12 Conference.
“This is really in response to pace of play as much as anything,” noted Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby when he officially announced last month during Big 12 football media day in Dallas that the league would employ an eighth official for games this season.
Big 12 coaches approved the measure on an experimental basis for games involving conference officiating crews. The extra official will be placed on the offensive side of the football located opposite the referee and that person’s No. 1 job will be to place the football in play. In the past, that job was taken care of by the umpire from the defensive side of the ball.
“The (umpire) that usually spotted the ball, I felt so bad for that guy at times over the past couple of years,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “He would have to hold the ball or he would be getting out of there as we were snapping it and then he could not sit there and focus on what was going on.”
The league began experimenting with an eighth official last spring with good success.
“Watching it in the spring, which we tempoed a good bit that specific day, (the eighth official) was just in the back and I was talking with him the whole time,” said Holgorsen. “He was saying, ‘Oh man this is going to be great.’ He can help dictate when there are subs, when the guy needs to get out of there, focus more on false starts, focus more on misalignments, have his wits about him on protecting the quarterback and making holding calls. I think it’s going to be more efficient.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson, who said he voted in favor of the measure, agrees with Holgorsen.
“You’re going to get better eyes on making sure we’re all getting lined up,” he said last month in Dallas. “I was one of the guys who voted for having the eighth official because that guy’s going to be the spot that allows your umpire and referee not to worry about it.
“They can stand back and make sure everything gets handled the way they were supposed to handle it in the first place,” Patterson said. “If you’re up and moving and the chains haven’t even got set and they’re still backing out of underneath the snap and the ball’s being snapped, it’s really hard for them to do their job.”
For Patterson, having an eighth official is very similar to the answer college basketball had a couple of decades ago when the game was becoming much faster and more athletic.
“Just like basketball went from two to three (officials), I just think it helps all of us if the game is going to stay at its capacity,” he explained. “If anything, I think it gets back to helping the defense a little bit more because now you have a little – you have one more set of eyes that are watching everything.”
“From a tempo aspect, I felt like you can play pretty fast regardless if there were seven out there or eight,” said Holgorsen. “I think they are going to make better decisions and I fully support it.”
Holgorsen also doesn’t believe it will be that big of an issue outside of conference play when Big 12 teams are playing games that are officiated by seven-person crews.
“We are still going to play the same game that we always play,” he said. “When we are in conference, I think we will see that they are making better decisions because they have their wits about them rather than being rushed. You can snap the ball quickly regardless.
“The Big 12 allows you to do it,” he added. “The SEC will probably be a little slower from getting out over the ball. I do not try to sub and go fast – I do not try to break that rule. If we want to tempo then we are going to keep the same people in the game and as soon as the play is over they know they are going to have to hurry up and line up.”
Whether it’s seven or eight officials out on the field, Holgorsen said his team is still going to play fast regardless.
“We are going to snap the ball as soon as we can, which will be somewhere between 10-15 seconds,” he said. “That to me is easy. I do not think it matters if there are seven or eight guys out there. But I do think that we are going to get better play.”
It will be interesting to see if or when other conferences will decide to follow suit.