‘For a Long Time I Proudly Was One, Now I’m Kinda Glad I Ain’t’
By MIKE McGINNIS
I spent 25 of the last 29 college football seasons connected to the mighty Southeastern Conference as a football official -- 15 as a line judge on the field wearing the stripes, throwing flags and blowing whistles. For ten years I served in the replay booth in two different seats … the first four as a communicator/observer (assistant replay official) and for the final six years I sat in THE SEAT as a replay official.
Those 25 years were over a third of my life and all very special to me. That avocation took me from one end of the country to the other … Miami to San Francisco to Pasadena to San Diego to Phoenix to San Antonio to El Paso to Boise to Minneapolis to Bloomington to Vicksburg to Chapel Hill to Clemson and back to Tampa, plus every SEC stadium and neutral site. The icing on the cake however, was getting to know, travel, spend fall weekends with, and work big-time college football with some very exceptional gentlemen. Every one of them thoroughly vetted, trained extensively having spent long hours on the field, viewing video, studying the rule book and working out to remain physically fit.
I worked with dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, public servants, insurance agents, large and small business owners and executives, college administrators, pilots, high school teachers, lay clergy, mayors, state troopers, mechanics, professors, warehouse foremen, and CPAs to name a few.
It is an exceptional fraternity that one doesn’t just wander or fall into. Every single one takes this “weekend activity” (which by the way extends itself into a majority of the week and runs almost year round now) very seriously preparing to perform at the highest level. Yet, mistakes are made.
Because I’m not “active” I can publicly comment good or bad on what’s going on today whereas I was expected not to do so as an active official. I presume because of my exposure in those 25 years I’m asked almost every day about a football rule/ruling or my opinion about a flag that was or was not thrown in a particular game. And with all that, I’d like to say…regardless of what you think, they (the officials) aren’t that bad.
But, some of the perceived mistakes this year seem more glaring than ever before. A lot of this is because of mis-stated facts or opinions by the television broadcasters and lack of true knowledge of the common fan looking through his favorite team-colored lenses and the very thorough video technology we have.
Far and away, more officiating mistakes were made during my first several years in the league than are right now.
I dare say some of the men I worked with early on would not be retained by today’s scrutiny and standards (including me perhaps). You can’t get away with being mediocre or less today. You must be the best you can be. If you’re not, you’re no longer with the SEC!
I don’t buy the perceived bias by some. With all that said not one official or SEC personnel person leans in any direction favoring one team or another. You can’t be! You can never show favoritism.
As a replay official we had to wear a coat and tie that was neutral in color. Wearing a blue tie may have been perceived as being a Kentucky fan. Precautions are taken to make sure officials are not put in precarious positions. For example, an Auburn grad will never work an Auburn game. If a perceived mistake or missed call happens it’s most certainly NOT because the ruling official has an allegiance one way or the other.
The 11-man officiating crew (including the replay booth) strives to be the best team of the three involved in that game. Unfortunately, a mistake will be made … they’re human! But you can bet your last penny it wasn’t made intentionally … regardless of who you’re rooting for.
I’ll admit this 2019 season has raised some serious concern to many regarding college football officiating. Honestly, I don’t know the reason, but it seems to coincide with the advent of an increased recognition of the “review center” at conference headquarters in Birmingham. The center is in place to provide the replay official in the stadium booth with another opinion or view … NOT to render a final decision.
“Collaboration” is the word used, with the stadium booth official making the final call. The general misconception is the conference office is making the decision when the fact is as few as two and as many as five qualified veteran college football officials have put their heads together to make the ruling on a particular review. Trouble is, that ruling is considered correct or acceptable by only about half the fans or the ones it favored. Let me assure you the decision was not happenstance but very thoroughly and intently derived by folks who have “no dog in the fight” despite what you think or who you’re pulling for.
To sum up, yes mistakes are made by officials. I know some people get aggravated when they see officials huddled up so often, but believe me they are trying to get it right. And those mistakes are not the result of any personal bias or leanings. As I say, the officiating in college football is better than it’s ever been, but we seem to hear more grousing than ever. Maybe TV has given us such good views that we can sometimes get a better angle on replay than the official can live. So we’ve all become experts.
We understand that no matter which way the replay goes, half the people are going to be unhappy. We also understand that every now and then you feel the urge to boo an official. Occasionally you might consider giving him a hug. He could sure use it.
A Hoosier at birth, Mike McGinnis grew up to be a Florida Gator. He was a five-sport participant at a small high school. All-state basketball honors earned him a scholarship to UF where he met Pat, now married 51+ years. Two athletic sons, six beautiful granddaughters. Huge college sports fan. Captain of the Ocala Quarterback Club. A man of faith, enjoys Tuesday breakfast with the guys, golf, volunteer mission work, good entertainment, various puzzles, and an occasional cocktail.