So in my last post I had fun with story-time. This post is something I wanted to do since I saw replacement refs completely mess up the first part of the NFL season. I always wondered how they actually become refs or what they think is the toughest call to make. I asked Paul Schmitt these questions and many more in yesterday’s interview.
How does someone get into officiating at the college or pro level?
I started in CSAA (Catholic School Athletic Association) and I wanted to get into college; I was already involved going out to U of L and working scrimmages because they needed some help. One of my really good friends Dale Orum- who later went on to the NFL and worked the Super Bowl- applied for the Missouri Valley Conference right after I had done the same. He called me up and said, ‘I have to go work a scrimmage on Derby day at Southern Illinois’. He worked the scrimmage, the boss sees him and the main ref had just resigned to go to the NFL. At that time they didn’t like it if you left and wouldn’t let you come back. My friend did so well that after the game the supervisor asked, ‘Dale you know any good young refs in your area?’ I got hired sight unseen without them ever seeing me work. They gave me 5 games at referee in my very first year, and still hadn’t met my supervisor until the clinic after the season. You see, it usually turns out to be who you know or where you are.
What goes into the weekly preparation for referees?
It’s really hard. They have a weekly test on the internet and the whole nation gets updated and they get rules and interpretation once a week nationally. Our supervisor sends out not only rules but will say, ‘look at these 3 plays from this game’. We will have quizzes out of the office too.
These guys are REALLY watched closely. Every game they are watched on every play. I have to watch them too in addition to replay [duties] and grade them; then I send in plays that I want the observer to break down in film. Then the observer breaks down EVERY SINGLE PLAY. They will get an IC if it’s an incorrect call or an NC if it should have been a no call. They also condition themselves; you can only imagine the speed of the game now making them work all the time.
They have to get in on Friday night by 5 o’clock. They have dinner and pregame conference on Friday night. On Saturday most of the guys usually get up and go work out in the morning at the hotel. When we’re finished [with the game] I have a postgame conference with them. Then they have to enter all of their fouls into the system before they leave and the process starts all over again.
I know it differs from one ref to another, but what call on the field is most difficult for you?
When I was on the field- I think it would still be the same- at that time Florida State was REALLY good at blocking punts. They would come in there so close I actually changed the mechanics and moved it around (now the whole country does it) because I was afraid that I was going to miss something. Now I guess because of the speed and everything probably defensive pass interference or offensive may be the most difficult because the first thing that has to happen is that it has to do is restrict [one fo the players]. They get a lot of leeway until they restrict with an arm bar or anything like that.
Head-to-head contact and head injuries are now a big priority on all levels. What is your take on the additional rules and penalties?
I can remember when they first came out with those helmets like that and they started teaching to block with their face and hitting them in their chest. It kept going and going and it got bad. Those guys started targeting them and launching themselves at each other. We really have to watch them. I think the rules are better (slowly) but it’s still dangerous.We don’t like it because it could be permanent damage to the guy that gets hit, or the guy that is giving the hit. If you’re a pass receiver and the ball is way over your head and you relax, if that guy comes after your head, that guy is out of the game.
What do replay officials actually do?
It’s the most pressure I’ve ever been under in my life. On the field it was a piece of cake because the action just comes to you. Up there I have to watch every single play. In college the replay official shuts it [the play] down. I have two assistants: one is a technician that makes sure I get everything right, the other is what we call a communicator. He does the recording manually of each down and he’s usually a former official. We watch every play. We make the decision whether or not to shut it down. It sounds easy EXCEPT they don’t want you to shut the damn thing down. That’s the hardest thing to start with you have to say, ‘is that big enough to shut it down?’ meaning it’s got to have an effect [on the play]. We have a couple hundred play examples to go from like, if the ball is in the middle of the field and it could be either 3rd and 10 or 3rd and 7, it doesn’t matter enough to shut down. It has to mean something and that has been the hardest thing for me to get accustomed to.
The other thing is, when you’re official, you think that it should’ve gone this way, but as a replay official you can’t do that. You can only call what the celluloid shows you, nothing else. If they don’t give you a good shot, you let the call stand. I also do all the same stuff the other refs have to do; we get graded the same way and have to file reports and stuff like that.
What is the best perk of being an official?
Well you get to travel all over the country and somebody pays for it. You don’t have any free time but you get to go to all of the different venues. A perk is really being able to work in that setting. College football is FANTASTIC. When I was in grade school you only had the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Peach Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl and that was it. We’d stay up late on New Year’s and watch everything. The Orange Bowl to me was the classiest because they’d do that ‘light stuff’ at halftime. It was always my desire to work the Orange Bowl when I grew up. When I got that assignment I felt like Mission Accomplished. For me that was the biggest thrill. You get to go to the parade, they have a private dinner for you, just some of the coolest perks. They all get paid the same but the better the bowl the better the perks. Working any game for me is a thrill I don’t care who it is, just being able to pack up on Friday and come home on Sunday.
Do you have to remove yourself from being a fan?
I did that a long time ago. I can go to any game and I won’t jump up and down and cheer. I like to watch good plays that good players make. If it’s football I critique the hell out of it, no matter who they are. I’m proud that guys [officials] I started are in the NFL or major college, that’s what I’m most proud of.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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