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How bowl refs get selected

12/16/2011

Welcome back to another edition of "Hey Ref!", the only place where you can fire off your questions to a man with three decades and 400-plus games of college football officiating experience. I'm talking about Dr. Jerry McGee, aka Pops (i.e., my father).

As always, if you have a question, feel free to fire it off to HeyRefESPN@yahoo.com.

When I was growing up, the month of December always meant hoping that Santa Claus came early to deliver Dad a trip to a bowl game. He had 20 in all, from the Liberty to the Rose to the BCS title game. And as this year's bowl season begins, that's what our first question deals with.

Dr. McGee,

I read where you've worked a ton of bowl games. How are officials selected for the postseason? -- Janine, Culver City, Calif.

Janine -- I always felt that when I got a bowl game it was based on merit, but when I didn't, it was all political! Seriously, though, bowl games are assigned by each conference. The conferences are informed which bowls they are working, and then it's up to each individual conference coordinator as to who goes where.

Theoretically -- and I do believe this is the case most of the time -- the top-rated guys at each position are chosen to work the games in order of importance. It's a reward for having a good season. A lot of things complicate it now. Officials can't work a game that includes a team from their conference and conference championship games are usually treated the same way, so some coordinators might be reluctant to give the conference title game and their best bowl assignment to the same guys. But in the end, the best guys usually find their way into the best games.

Dr. McGee,

I'm not going to put you on the spot about whether or not Tyrann Mathieu had crossed the goal line before tossing the ball to the ref on his punt-return TD in the SEC title game. In the end it didn't matter. My question is this: As fast as everything is moving on the field, how easy is it to lose track of where you are in relation to yardage markers? Is it something you have to stay mindful of all the time? -- Brad, Huntsville, Ala.

Yardage markers don't matter, but your position on each play is crucial. The single most important thing about officiating is mechanics. Just like the teams, we have a sort of playbook, a map of where each official should be on each play, the best position to see the field and make the call. If you are in the right place, then you have a much better chance to get it right than not.

There are subtle differences from conference to conference. For example, in the Big East they wanted me 2 yards out of bounds to stay out of the way of the play, but in the ACC they wanted you straddling the out-of-bounds line. Being in the right position means you are going to make the right call nearly every time. But in those instances where you get blocked out or slip up and you can't get to the right spot, that's when you're glad the other six officials and the replay booth are there for you.

Dr. McGee,

As the Big East gets spread out from coast to coast, do you think we'll ever see a day when college officials work from a national pool, like the NFL, instead of being supplied by individual conferences? -- Joey, Providence, RI

I hope so. I've been asked that for a long time. I think you could divide the country into four regions and it would work just fine. Anytime you come from a certain conference to work a game, there's a perception that you're going to lean toward your conference team. It's not true, but this would make that talk go away.

And for the official himself, it eliminates situations where you end up working games with the same team two, three, even four times in one year. Think about it. An official in the East Coast region might have Connecticut-Rutgers one week, then Clemson-Maryland, then Georgia-Auburn. It would also cut back on travel. It would eliminate cross-country jaunts. I once had a game at Air Force on Thursday night and then a noon game at Duke that Saturday. Keep in mind, nearly every college official has a day job. You're asking them to miss a lot of work. I think a national pool is the future. Whatever forces the leagues to do that, I'm all for it.

Dr. McGee,

This is more of a general officiating question, but it stems from basketball. In the now-infamous Cincinnati-Xavier game, it felt like tensions were rising for a long time before the fight finally broke out. I see it in football all the time, too. Is there anything the officiating crew can do to head those things off before the fight actually happens?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. My first year in the FBS, I had a huge game that got really tense. The referee in that game had 20-plus years of experience. He called timeout, called the captains out to midfield and told them to go back to their teams and tell everyone to calm it down. It took a minute or so to do it, and that break also kind of cooled things off.

In my experience, talking to the teams works better than throwing early unsportsmanlike flags. That usually makes things worse. But sometimes there are forces at work you can't stop, stuff that went on the year before or in the week leading up to the game. I tell young officials all the time that sometimes, in the end, seven people simply can't control a couple of hundred.

Hi Dr. McGee,

I'm curious to get an official's take on situations such as the kick-catch interference penalty that was called against the Texas Longhorns when they played the Kansas State Wildcats. (Full disclosure: I'm an unabashed UT homer, but I also readily admit that Texas had plenty of chances to win that game despite that or any other call.) My question is this: Wow do officials, schools, and conferences deal with mistaken penalty calls after the fact? -- Andy

There's a lot more communication between the conference coordinators, the athletic directors and the coaches than you might think. In a typical week, I would say three or four schools in a 12-team league will send in a specific play they didn't agree with. Then there's a discussion behind the scenes that fans never hear about.

Every week the conference coordinator sends out film to all the officials to review before the next weekend's games, and those crews will watch it and discuss it. The coordinator will ask for input on how it could have been better handled and then maybe look at changing mechanics to ensure it won't happen again.

Occasionally, officials are reprimanded publicly, but in my opinion it should always be private. Ask yourself this: What happens when a coach makes a bad call or a running back fumbles or a wide receiver drops a ball? They keep playing. Same thing when an official makes a bad call. Usually there's a discussion or even an apology on the field at the time. As you said, one play doesn't win or lose games. There are plenty of other plays that were just as important. But I'll also say this: If a certain official continues to be problem, you won't be seeing him much anymore.

Dr. McGee,

I read all about the cool gift bag stuff that the players get for being in bowl games, like iPods and Best Buy gift cards and all that. Do the refs get that stuff too? --Jamahl, Brooklyn

No -- no iPods or shopping sprees for us. But it's always been customary to receive a watch or a ring. Every now and then you get both. I'm wearing my 2009 BCS championship ring and a Cotton Bowl watch right now. I've collected an awful lot of stuff over the years. My son and I went through it all three years ago before my final game. You can see it here.