An officials day

Big Ten invites media to take a look inside the game of officiating

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ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Breathe in for five seconds, breathe out for five.

That was a technique for dealing with stress passed on to officials from the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley conferences during Saturday's College Officiating Consortium. Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of officials, invited media to Saturday's event. He wanted to give us a look at the job and everything it entails.

These guys need a camera on the hats and the internet at their fingertips.

In theory, the breathing exercise was helpful. Dr. Bruce Wilson even had an official (whose day job is Illinois State Highway Patrol) hooked up to a heart-rate device, showing a normal heart rate with controlled breathing.

It's great in theory. In reality, college football officiating is an incredibly stressful job. Strike that, part-time job. Big Ten officials make in the neighborhood of $2,500. They all have regular jobs.

The worlds can collide.

Veteran official Bill LeMonnier remembered vivid details from a pair of missed calls in the Michigan at Illinois game in 2000. Chicago newspapers wrote about the calls and put in LeMonnier's real job, a principal at a Chicago school. The space between his fingers showed about three inches, which measured the number of dissatisfied faxes the school's office received after those stories ran.

You could still hear the strain in his voice when he discussed those calls, which, arguably, knocked Ron Turner out of the head coaching job at Illinois. This happened 12 years ago.

Breathe in for five seconds, breathe out for five.

The day began with a speech from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. His basic message was you're doing well, you better keep it that way.

"You need to understand what you're doing out there and be prepared to make the call," Delany said. ". . . We don't need phantom calls. We don't need people who are going to be victims or bullies."

As you probably already gathered with rule changes on kickoffs, player safety is paramount. "High hits" will be watched incredibly closely this season. The flag will fly more often than it won't.

The "pop up" onside kicks? Those are gone. The kicking team must give the receiver a 1-yard "halo" to field the ball. Two bounces, and all bets are off. Iowa lost last season's Minnesota game when it was still legal to hit the receiver on a one-bounce offside.

Of course, there's the new helmet rules, which state that a player must leave a game for a play when his helmet is knocked off during action. If a running back's helmet comes off, the clock stops and the play is blown dead.†If you lose your helmet and engage another player, itís unsportsmanlike. Hit player without helmet, it's unnecessary roughness.

If an offensive player loses a helmet inside a minute, there's a 10-second run off (that only can be avoided with a timeout).

One official recalled a game last season in which players' helmets came off 27 times. With substitutions, that might add 10 to 15 minutes to a game.

Oh, and officials are tasked with moving the game along. TV will tell them that.

North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl spoke to officials. During a Q&A, he was asked what he would get rid of if he were president of football. Bohl is a defensive coach and his answer was blocking below the waist. The 190 officials in attendance applauded.

Blocking below the waist is pretty much illegal now except along the line of scrimmage. There are a ton of moving parts to this rule.

Breathe in for five seconds, breathe out for five.

Players faking injury? Officials aren't doctors. That was the answer Saturday and it always will be. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said governance there needs to come from the league office to the coach. Of course, Iowa fans, the Michigan State example from last season was front and center here.

The media were given the same tests officials took. One question from the crew test dealt with the helmet rule. What's the call if a running back's helmet comes off at the 1/2-yard line and, with the helmet completely off, he extends his arm over the goal line before he hits the ground? And oh, there were two seconds left on the clock when his helmet came off?

The answer is the ball is marked at the 1/2 (where the runner's helmet came off) and the 10-second run off ends the game.

On the individual test, I answered eight of 10 correctly. I missed a blocking below the waist. It had to do with a defensive player blocking below the waist for a penalty and where it happened on the field.

I got it wrong. I wasn't in front of 80,000 fans who can go to the internet and look up where I work. I also didn't have a millionaire coach in my ear. I didn't have a TV official tell me that the 10 o'clock news has to start at 10 o'clock.

I wouldn't do this without a camera, instant internet access and enough time to get it right.

The breathing deal didn't work for me during the test, by the way.

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