There is a lot to unpack from this interview with SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw about the debate over pace, but the first thing I’ve got to say about the man is that he’s much less arrogant about the topic than Bobby Gaston was. Compare Gaston’s justification for inserting himself into the process…
Richt argued that the officials should put the ball in play as soon as they are set, regardless of how much time has elapsed, but Gaston said that would provide the offense an unfair advantage.
“Mark Richt would eat their lunch,” he said. “He would go straight to the ball and snap it. He’d get in 100 plays. We have about half the coaches who think we go too fast and about half who think we go too slow so we must be in about the right spot.”
… with what Shaw has to say about that:
“Whether we like it or not as officials, the college rule is different than the NFL rule,” Shaw said. “The college rule says when the ball is ready it can be snapped. So what we’ve got to do is be very consistent — and I’m not just talking SEC, I’m talking nationally. This is a big topic with (officiating) coordinators: How do we stay very consistent from a timing perspective on when the ball is ready and certainly any time there’s substitutions?”
That’s the difference between enforcing the rules and interpreting the rules according to some personal aesthetic agenda. (Although, interestingly, Shaw seems to have overlooked what Gaston squelched with Richt when he noted at the time the 40-second clock was adopted, “Nobody was pressing the clock like they are now.”)
Shaw also points out that pace isn’t simply a matter of what offensive coaches try to do.
Conference officiating coordinators, along with College Football Officiating, LLC, are in the process of writing up specific standards of how to spot the ball ready for play “for every official in America to read and understand,” Shaw said.
In the SEC, Shaw said the general principle is the umpire will almost always spot the ball. The umpires are instructed to don’t sprint, don’t walk, but to jog crisply.
“I have nine SEC crews,” Shaw said. “When you talk about pace, you have different athleticism of umpires. What is a crisp jog to one guy is maybe not the exact same crisp jog to another guy.”
How much of that is due to athleticism and how much to, say, how an umpire feels about the proper amount of time to get set? Common standards for spotting the ball seems like something that should have been established already, but in any event, it’s a welcome development.
It always seems that any time I read something about the SEC and officiating, something’s bound to turn up that’s irritating. In this case, it’s adding the eighth official. Shaw acknowledges that the conference’s test run had been successful, but…
The SEC tested eight officials in spring practices last year and will do so again this spring. What the SEC found was that an eighth official freed the umpire and referee to focus more on their pre-snap duties. Instead of the umpire spotting the ball, the eighth official — called the alternate referee — spots the ball.
“We manage uptempo much better (with an eighth official),” Shaw said.
More than tempo, though, Shaw said the eighth official allowed for better handling of spread offenses. For example, when five receivers go downfield, five officials become responsible to watch them, leaving just the umpire and referee to handle line-of-scrimmage play, including dangerous hits to the quarterback.
Although the early feedback is helpful, Shaw said he’s not sure if the SEC is ready to switch to eight officials during the season yet.
“We’ll be talking about it internally in the conference,” he said. “There would be latitude to do it in conference games only. Then you get to, do you want consistent officiating all year (since an eighth official is only allowed for conference games)? There’s a cost component to it. There’s one more official the schools have to pay so that always factors in. [Emphasis added.] What I’m trying to look at is does that make us better?”
The conference is swimming in money, with more to come, but can’t swing the dough for nine guys who it admits can help manage the game better? SEC, you’re so SEC.