Did refs get it right in LSU-Alabama? 

November, 8, 2011

After a half-season hiatus, we're happy to announce the return of the Zebra Report: "Hey Ref!" edition, in which my old man answers your questions about all things in black and white stripes.

Dr. Jerry McGee, aka Pops, was a college football official for nearly three decades, working more than 400 games, including two Rose Bowls and the 2009 BCS championship. Just before that game, and his retirement, I wrote this in ESPN The Magazine and this when I shadowed his crew in that title game. Just last year he answered reader questions about rules and refs and now he's back to do it again.

If you have your own questions for Pops, shoot them to me at HeyRefESPN@yahoo.com and we'll try to hit them in a future edition.

Here are your questions and Pops' answers.

[+] EnlargeEric Reid
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRefs have a lot to pay attention to on dual-possession situations like the one in the LSU-Alabama game.
Dr. McGee,

I'm a high school back judge. On a play like the Eric Reid interception in the LSU Tigers-Alabama Crimson Tide game, where two guys come down with the ball like that, can you walk us through what the official is watching to make that call? -- Jason G., Austin, Texas

On the play, the first thing everyone wants to talk about is simultaneous catch. But the truth is that almost never happens. Too many things have to happen -- two guys with full possession, feet hitting the ground at the same time, etc. But on the play the first thing you are looking for is making sure no one has been fouled. Then you make sure the ball doesn't hit the ground.

From there, you have to resist blowing the play dead. You have to let it play out. I think that's the most common mistake for a lot of officials, getting in a hurry. If they had blown that play dead one second too soon it would have gone to the offense and that would have been a mess.

Again, let it play out. Give your eyes a second to digest what happened, and then make the call. They did that on Saturday night and the replay backed them up. Steve Shaw and that crew did an amazing job that night.

Dr. McGee,

Watching the LSU-Alabama game, I had two questions. One, do refs get nervous before a big regular-season game like that? Two, how are games like that assigned? Is it like bowl games and it goes to the highest-rated crew? -- Linda, Shreveport, La.

The pregame atmosphere for an official is the same as it is for a player. Big games certainly feel bigger, you are excited, you have the butterflies, all of that. But once the ball is kicked off, it really feels like any other game. For the players I think it takes a little longer, four or five plays, but once everyone hits their normal game rhythm it all feels very normal.

As for game assignments, that game was likely assigned well before the season started. In the ACC and Big East we always got our schedules in midsummer. Some conferences do like the NFL and assign games in segments, like month-to-month, but not many. Listen, they knew in March that LSU-Alabama would be a huge game, just like we already know it will be a huge game next year. So you typically see more experienced guys in those games. But I can tell you this, for the teams playing, no matter who they are, the biggest game in America is the one they're in, so they need to feel like they are getting good officials every week.

Dr. McGee,

When there's a situation like the Pac-12 officials had after the Stanford Cardinal-USC Trojans game, when Lane Kiffin was so vocal about the officiating that he was fined, how awkward a situation does that create for the next crew coming in for a Trojans game? And how can it not affect how USC will be called? -- Tripp, Long Beach, Calif.

Lane Kiffin
Chris Williams/Icon SMILane Kiffin was unhappy with the officials after the USC-Stanford game.
Something like that doesn't alter how the game is called. A good official doesn't get caught up in personalities or headlines or any of that. The next game is just the next game. I think the Pac-12 guys were probably surprised that he said the things he said. And the crew that worked USC's next game surely went over it in their pregame meeting, just a reminder that there might be a little extra emotion coming from the sideline.

But stuff like that should never change how you call a game. It might be hard to grasp that officials don't enter a game with the same emotion that fans or the teams do, but that's how it should be done.

Dr. McGee,

This year I feel like I've seen more running backs grabbing defenders' face masks. I know that would be a flag if the defender does it, but is it not a penalty when an offensive player does it? -- Eric, Southern California

I've noticed that too, Eric. And yes, it should be a foul. A runner's hand might brush over a face mask incidentally, but he can't grab it. I've actually had a situation where we had to throw two face-mask flags on the same play. The offensive guy grabbed the other guy's face mask so the defensive player returned the favor.

Dr. McGee,

I still can't believe the officials in the Toledo-Syracuse game (Sept. 24) blew that extra-point call that gave Syracuse the game. Were you ever lined up under the goalpost? If so, how do you make the call in that position and is hard? -- Jeremy, Toledo