GREENVILLE The old adage is that the
best officials are the ones you don't notice. The point is that they do
their job effectively without attracting attention.
A much anticipated game between East
Carolina and Virginia Tech was apparently a test tube case for a new
standardized approach to officiating that has its base thousands of
miles from Greenville.
Conference USA, the Mountain West
Conference and the Western Athletic Conference have combined their
rosters of officials in a move aimed at standardizing how college
football games are called. The Big 12 Conference also is involved in the
initiative, according to a news release distributed Thursday night.
The release stated, "Consolidation of
rosters allows the conferences to retain and utilize only the
best-of-the-best from among available officials in the region. This also
provides flexibility in assignments which can eliminate repeat visits by
crews within the same season, minimize concerns about alumni and
hometown conflicts, and address other perceptual issues."
The officiating association is known as
the CFO West.
The new program also uses "the QwikRef
system" to evaluate officials on an "empirical basis." The database
tracks every call and play with input from both coaches as well as
It didn't take long for the officials
to get the attention of the 43,569 in purple and black on Thursday
Many of those were probably wondering
what kind of mindset the Hokies would bring into the
nationally-televised, non-conference contest. In mid-October, Virginia
Tech appeared to be in good position to defend its Atlantic Coast
The Hokies were 3-0 in the ACC's
Coastal Division and had only an early loss to Alabama in terms of
blemishes on their overall ledger.
That was before successive losses at
Georgia Tech and at home last week on a Thursday night date with UNC-Chapel
Hill. The defeat administered by the Tar Heels was especially
excruciating as a fumble by a freshman running back late in the game led
to a game-ending field goal by North Carolina's Casey Barth.
So what kind of focus would the Hokies
have after an uncharacteristic second straight loss?
Would they atone a week later as the
Tar Heels had done in Blacksburg, VA, after a disappointing fade in the
second half against Florida State? Or would a downward spiral continue?
Certainly in play in terms of their
psychological state was a season-opening loss to the Pirates in
Charlotte in 2008. West Virginia and North Carolina exacted revenge on
ECU for losses in previous meetings in road matchups for the Pirates
earlier this season.
You had to figure factors in ECU's
favor such as additional time to rest and prepare since a 38-19 win at
Memphis on Oct. 27. The Pirates also had the considerable advantage of
playing before a supportive crowd on Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen
The Pirate Nation had anticipated the
matchup between the defending Conference USA champions and defending ACC
champs for months. The last time the Hokies came to Greenville for a
Thursday night contest was Sept. 7, 2000, when ECU's special teams
miscues contributed mightily to a 45-28 Virginia Tech win.
The most costly mistake early on
Thursday night was a missed block in the back by the officiating crew.
Dekota Marshall was the victim in punt coverage for the Pirates. He was
taken off the field by stretcher with a right leg injury and did not
return to the game. ECU coach Skip Holtz said after the game that
Marshall is likely out for the year.
Officials are human and they have a
difficult job, but incompetence should not be tolerated when players'
safety is at stake. Pirate fans roundly booed the glaring error which
led to a 40-plus yard difference in field position and a Hokies field
goal for a 3-0 lead.
Another first quarter field goal on a
drive from their 20-yard line to the ECU 5, gave Virginia Tech a 6-0
The Pirates' defense should be credited
for keeping the Hokies out of the end zone in the first quarter. Field
goals are a lot easier to overcome than touchdowns. ECU's offense could
not sustain a drive on its first three possessions but punter Matt Dodge
was booming the ball with a west wind behind him.
Former NFL official Gerald Austin, who
used to be coordinator of C-USA officials, was on hand, presumably in an
The problem with a mixed crew is that
they will be subject to a degree of inconsistency until they have
developed some familiarity with the new system of grouping and with each
other. ECU was called for holding on Dominique Lindsay's first run from
scrimmage. A second quarter scoring run by Lindsay was nullified on a
holding call by umpire Richard Brown, an infraction which appeared to
take place behind the play.
The combined officiating crew looked
disjointed at times. A Thursday night game on national television may
not be the best time for what sounds like an experimental venture.
One has to wonder what effect jet lag
might have on officials who likely were brought from a considerable
distance to call the contest.
A fumble through the end zone by Hokies
quarterback Tyrod Taylor appeared to be ruled correctly in ECU's favor
as a touchback. There was considerable confusion about a loose ball on
the Pirates' sideline on a Virginia Tech possession later in the second
The play was originally ruled to have
been touched out of bounds and the Hokies kept the ball. After review,
it was determined to be an incomplete forward pass. Some press box
observers felt if it was a pass, it must have been thrown beyond the
line of scrimmage and therefore should have been penalized.
The officials respotted the ball at the
Virginia Tech 38 and, after another review, moved it up to the Hokies
"I don't know how you could officiate
with guys from all over," said one NFL scout.
The situation might be likened to the
approach on all-star games when offensive and defensive systems are
simplified because of the players' lack of familiarity with one another.
The only problem is that there is no
way to simplify the administration of a football game in terms of the
vast number and complexity of the rules. When officials are trying to
deal with personnel they don't know and different styles of officiating
from various former leagues, there would seem to be a lot of potential
The intent of achieving better
officiated games in the four conferences involved in the CFO West is
certainly a noble undertaking, although it may take some time to smooth
out some wrinkles. One hopes the end product justifies the means and the
snafus that were witnessed Thursday night.
Standardization in college football
would be more desirable in terms of uniform access to the championship
of what presently exists as the football bowl subdivision. Maybe the CFO
West is a roundabout step in that direction.
In the end, the CFO West officials will
be graded on their Thursday night performance. But the only grade that
goes onto the competing teams' ledger is the final score, a 16-3 Hokies
victory that was influenced to some extent by inopportune ECU penalties