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Game No. 8: Va. Tech 16, ECU 3


Inside Game Day
Thursday, November 5, 2009

By Al Myatt

CFO West trial run sputters

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 evaluators.

It didn't take long for the officials to get the attention of the 43,569 in purple and black on Thursday night.

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 Conference championship.

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 Stadium.

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 lead.

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 evaluatory capacity.

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 quarter.

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 40.

"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 for confusion.

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 and turnovers.

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11/06/2009 07:35:08 AM


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