On one side, SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw lays out the case for an eighth official in the era of the HUNH:
“People think we’re putting the eighth official in so we can go even faster (given the ongoing debate about up-tempo offenses),” Shaw said. “That absolutely is not the case. The expectation is the pace of the game, whether it’s seven or eight, will be very consistent across the board.”
Shaw said the SEC’s experiment is based on football’s changing complexities due to spread offenses. That’s a point echoed by other conference officiating coordinators. Football has become a numbers game — more teams throw the ball and more receivers run patterns –and officials are struggling to keep up.
Consider the math on a play if five offensive players go out for a pass. There are three officials positioned deep and two on the sideline. So five receivers (and potentially five to six defensive backs) are occupying five officials.
That leaves two officials — the referee and umpire — for the whole area around the pocket and line of scrimmage that involves eight to 11 players. Many officiating coordinators say the numbers don’t add up, especially given the emphasis on player safety, such as watching for personal foul hits on the quarterback.
“That’s a tall order,” Shaw said of two officials watching the balance of the players. “The early views are this eighth official helps us spotting the ball and managing the substitution process, but it’s also an extra pair of eyes to officiate.”
Shaw said the hope is the center judge can free the umpire from handling substitutions and allow him to better make his pre-snap reads. (Yes, officials are taught to read keys, too, just like defensive players.)
Makes a helluva lot of sense, no? What could be so compelling as to keep some conferences, like Larry “ideally, we would all run the race on a similar course” Scott’s Pac-12 from entertaining the notion entirely and even keep the SEC from doing nothing more this season than a toe in the water experiment with only one eight-man crew a week? C’mon, do you really have to guess?
One concern for conferences could be the economics of paying more officials. Schools and conferences will have to determine if the eighth official provides enough value to invest money into it as opposed to other officiating areas.
In case you’re wondering, SEC football officials are typically paid between $800 and $2,200 per game.
If the football gods have a sense of humor, this season they’ll arrange a blown call by a seven-man crew that wouldn’t have occurred with the eighth ref in a SEC game that costs a conference team a spot in the playoff.