Canzano: Pac-12 officiating under a spring football microscope
Oregon State's scrimmage featured more than one team.
CORVALLIS — I was minding my business on Saturday, watching Oregon State’s spring football game from the end zone at Reser Stadium, when an interesting thing happened. David Coleman, the Pac-12 Conference’s Vice President of officiating, waved me over from his position near a corner pylon.
Coleman is a pleasant guy. He’s been in charge of the conference officials for seven years. But it struck me as we talked that the former United States Army officer is facing a critical season as the supervisor of Pac-12 officiating.
A report surfaced late in 2020 revealing that Coleman’s on-field experience as a game official was limited to two major college football games. The conference is now led by George Kliavkoff, a commissioner with fresh ideas. And a Pac-12 source told me there’s a special emphasis this spring on training and improving the football officials.
Coleman reports to Merton Hanks, the Pac-12’s supervisor of football. Hanks told me near the end of last season that he thought the officials had a good year and said, “Officiating is a tough job and we can never rest on our laurels.”
None of the Pac-12 football teams qualified for the College Football Playoff invitational last season. The bowl teams went 0-5. And the Pac-12 had its worst non-conference performance in football since 1983.
Is it possible the officiating was improved amid all that carnage?
It sort of felt that way. Or maybe we were all just happy to be back inside stadiums. But certainly what was absent last season were glaring and embarrassing in-game officiating errors that require the Pac-12 to issue a public statement.
A lot of us know the 2018 season was a disaster for the conference officials. A well-documented instant-replay scandal involving former executive Woodie Dixon rocked public confidence in the officiating. The mess prompted the conference to introduce new protocols and commission an independent review.
In 2019, the Pac-12 had three occasions in which it had to issue public statements related to large-scale officiating miscues. In 2020, that happened only once.
On Saturday, Coleman wore a blue “Pac-12” trucker-style baseball cap to the Beavers’ spring game. He observed from a vantage point near the corner of the end zone. Jack Folliard, a long-time Pac-12 referee and prominent retired trial lawyer in Oregon, was present and in street clothes. Folliard, the Pac-12’s assistant supervisor, held a notepad and pen and jotted down notes.
The crew working OSU’s scrimmage warmed up and treated it as if it were a live, regular-season football game. Afterward, the officials walked off the field together. As they passed by, one of them looked up, smiled and said, “Be nice to us.”
Seeing the officials work the scrimmage helps. Because it’s evident that the football players weren’t the only ones getting reps on Saturday. At one point, for example, a Beavers’ tight end caught what appeared to be a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone.
The offense celebrated.
The sideline erupted.
The closest official blew his whistle, came sprinting in, and waved off the catch — incomplete. He ruled the ball was juggled as the tight end went out of bounds. Players complained. The crowd jeered. But I was a few feet away, and despite the protests, it sure looked like the official got it right.
The Pac-12’s training program for officials includes video review, detailed reports and analysis after each game. There are also weekly evaluation meetings with officials during the season, offseason training sessions and spring scrimmages.
Said Hanks: “We are constantly training our officials.”
What the conference has to get real about, though, is how vital it is to retain the best officials. Too often in recent years the Pac-12 lost top officials to other conferences. That can’t happen if the conference wants to be at its best on the field.
Coleman’s predecessor, Tony Corrente, quit midseason in 2014 because of chronic meddling from former commissioner Larry Scott and Dixon, per a source. Said one person with knowledge: “Those two weren’t qualified to weigh in but never let it stop them.”
Kliavkoff won’t make that mistake.
SCRIMMAGE STUFF: Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith refused to name a starter at quarterback after the spring scrimmage. Chance Nolan, he said, is getting most of the reps with the first team. Smith said he’ll wait until fall camp to decide who his starter is, but it feels like Nolan’s job to lose.
What you need to know:
• Beavers’ freshman running back Damien Martinez left high school early and is in spring practice. He scored a touchdown during the scrimmage and could end up as OSU’s every-down back. Returner Deshaun Fenwick, in a fight for snaps with the freshman, was the first teammate off the sideline and ran all the way to the end zone to celebrate with Martinez.
• Oregon State’s players were especially jubilant in their celebrations during the scrimmage. Wide receiver Silas Bolden caught a screen pass and took it to the end zone for a score. Once there, he dropped the ball and then slid on his stomach across the wet turf, pretending to paddle a surf board in the end zone. Several teammates joined him and whooped it up. I asked Smith about the joyful vibe after the scrimmage and he said, “It’s spring ball, I want the guys to have fun.”
• Oregon State had recruits present at the spring game. Among them Daylen Austin (Long Beach Poly High). He is the brother of current OSU defensive back Alex Austin. The younger Austin, 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, also has offers from Washington, Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Oregon, USC and Notre Dame.
• Pac-12 Network carried the broadcast of Oregon State’s spring game. Yogi Roth, one of my favorite people in the business, was on the sideline and interviewed several key players during the one-hour event. Among them, Beavers’ team captain and defensive back Jaydon Grant, who is recovering from thumb surgery in the offseason.
• Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes told me that the loge boxes and family-room boxes that will be built as part of the renovation of the West side of Reser Stadium are mostly sold out. Said Barnes: “We have only a few seats left there.”
• The Oregon Ducks will hold their spring scrimmage next Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The Pac-12 Network will carry it live.
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