Canzano: Big Ten coming for Pac-12... officials?
Pac-12 needs to play some defense.
The Big Ten Conference poached a couple of the Pac-12 Conference schools. Turns out, it may want some of the league’s top football officials, too.
Representatives of the Big Ten have made informal inquiries with more than one of the Pac-12’s current football officials, per a source.
“With USC and UCLA coming in,” one current Pac-12 official told me, “the Big Ten needs to put together crews in (the Pacific Time Zone). If the Pac-12 isn’t careful, they’ll take the best we’ve got.”
I don’t believe the Big Ten is going to steal additional schools from the Pac-12. Not in the next 4-5-year cycle, anyway. But if the “Conference of Champions” wants to elevate its football officiating, it should be on high alert.
A few things I learned in speaking with several Pac-12 football officials:
• GET IT RIGHT: The officials want fans to know they’re doing their best to get the calls right on the field. It’s a thankless job. They’re trying. One current football official told me, “We aren’t going to be perfect, but the conspiracy theories are way, way off base. We just want to get the call correct.”
Two Saturdays ago, the officials working Washington State’s home game vs. Oregon lost track of downs. It was a bad moment for the conference. A Pac-12 source told me the written report from the game revealed a “systemic breakdown.” One began when the digital down markers were accidentally flipped to “3” when it was actually second down.
The crew on the field saw it and was confused. It checked with an official sitting in the booth in the press box, who also mistakenly said it was third down. Also, the unsettled crew checked with the command center. Two plays later — horrified and embarrassed — the officials realized the error on the field and attempted to unwind the sequence.
“I felt really, really bad for that crew,” said one Pac-12 official working another game that day. “It never should have happened, but it happened because a series of three or four safeguards all simultaneously failed.”
• SUPERVISION: There’s concern among current officials about the leadership of David Coleman, the Pac-12’s Vice President of officiating. Coleman is well-liked and is a former Army officer, but no other major conference would have hired him as the coordinator of officiating.
Coleman’s on-field experience in major college football is limited to just two games as a linesman in the Mid-American Conference.
Said one current Pac-12 official, “Losing Tony Corrente was a big blow.”
Corrente, a well-respected, long-time NFL official, is the former supervisor of Pac-12 officials. He walked off the job in the middle of the 2014 season. He was replaced by Coleman.
I’ve reached out to Corrente a few times over the years. Each time, he politely declines comment. But the prevailing sentiment is that Corrente threw in the keys after growing weary of meddling from ex-commissioner Larry Scott and former Pac-12 football supervisor Woodie Dixon.
In 2019, I spoke with former Pac-12 replay official, Ken Lucida, about Corrente’s abrupt departure. Lucida found himself in a spat with Dixon during the 2013 season after using replay to overturn a call in a Stanford-Washington game. Both teams were ranked in the Top-15.
Dixon called the following day, and grilled Lucida about the replay decision. It cost Washington a first down late in the fourth quarter. Stanford took possession, ran out the clock, and won the game. Dixon pressed for answers, which Lucida told him had already been provided in his written game report.
Said Lucida: “Tony told me, ‘Now you know what I deal with.’”
Corrente retired from the NFL after last season. Scott and Dixon are both gone now. Would Corrente consider coming back? Someone ought to ask.
• PIPELINE: More than one Pac-12 official told me the conference needs to establish an officiating consortium for football. There’s a lack of synergy on the officiating staffs and too much turnover. When the conference hires new officials, it often takes a scattershot approach. Having an established pipeline with common training and grading tools would help establish continuity.
The Pac-12 currently has a consortium with the Big Sky Conference and Mountain West for basketball and volleyball officials. But it hasn’t arranged anything resembling a pipeline for football.
Tom Wistrcill, the Big Sky Conference commissioner, told me on Wednesday morning that he’d be open to establishing one with the Pac-12.
“We could do a better job with football, but I do know the coordinators talk frequently,” Wistrcill said. “We’d want the Mountain West involved so we have all three conferences together. Would need to develop a management structure that works for everyone.”
Currently, the Big 12 Conference has a consortium with the Southland Conference and the Mountain West Conference. The Pac-12 should partner with the Big Sky on an officiating pipeline now, and join forces with the MWC, later.
The purpose of this piece isn’t to drum up a bunch of hysteria. There’s enough of that going around. The aim isn’t to knock conference officials, either. They’re doing their best. But if the Pac-12 wants to retain its best football officials, it needs to be pro-active. The Big Ten is apparently sniffing around.
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