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SEC to experiment with wireless communication system for officials

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

If it sometimes seems like a crew of college football officials aren't even as coordinated as the drive-thru team at your local fast-food restaurant, the SEC has some good news for you: they're going to borrow some technology that's not all that different from your neighborhood Wendy's or Mickey D's.

The Birmingham News reported Tuesday that NCAA has granted the league a waiver on a rule preventing any official other than the referee from wearing a microphone, paving the way for the SEC to experiment with a wireless communication system used by World Cup referees. The system will outfit each official with earpieces and a small microphone worn on the collar, allowing officials to work together on penalty enforcement, ruling explanations to coaches, and other officiating issues--all without having to huddle.

"We see great promise in this," Steve Shaw, the SEC's coordinator of officials, told the News. "One of the questions is could this be a distraction to the crew? We're going to learn if it is. If it's a distraction, we're not going to use it. My goal is to have a better product of officiating on the field, and I think this is a tool that will help us get there."

The SEC isn't going to suddenly become an all-wireless all-the-time league overnight; the conference is expected to buy two of the systems, for use with just two of its nine crews, at a cost of $20,000. The system used in first-time experiments at league spring games was produced by the European company Vokkero, which produces similar systems for soccer referees. (The technology has also been used by officials working Alabama high school games.)

Shaw said there's still plenty of possible hurdles for the technology to overcome before becoming the league's -- and, eventually, maybe even the FBS's -- operating standard. Frequencies would have to be monitored to avoid disruption with other wireless systems; dampening controls on crowd noise would have to work even in the midst of the jet-engine decibel levels of an SEC night game; officials would have to learn when and when not to talk over the system to avoid confusion that could, theoretically, be avoided without it.

But if everything goes according to plan and any kinks are capable of being worked out, the improved communication could eventually make the SEC's systems just the first two of dozens across the FBS. The league will issue a report to the NCAA's rules committee following the season, and if it's a positive one, the microphone rule could be lifted across the sport.

So it'll be worth paying particularly close attention to the SEC's mic'd men this fall--they could be the first of many in a dramatic change for how the sport is officiated.

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