Big 12 adds eighth official just to keep up with up-tempo offenses

DALLAS -- We might have conclusive proof that the Big 12 is the fastest, most offensive-friendly league in the country.

The conference is adding an extra official just to keep up.

The decision recently to add an eighth Big 12 on-field official wasn't a surprise. The league's coordinator of officials, Walt Anderson, went to the NCAA rules committee earlier this year to receive permission. Several conferences nationally used an eighth official in spring practice. But the Big 12 will be the only conference to use it in games.

Seven-man officiating crews have been the norm since 1983.

“One of the things that has become evident is the pace continued to increase,” said Anderson, who added the advent of the 40-second clock in 2008 opened the game up further for up-tempo offenses.

With the 40-second clock offenses could “go at whatever pace that they felt like they could manage,” Anderson added. “What ended up evolving is that many teams and probably the majority in our conference increased the tempo significantly.”

The Big 12's decision could have lasting effects. Alabama coach Nick Saban continues to complain about up-tempo offenses impacting player safety.

“And they were beaten by who last year?” Texas Tech receiver Eric Ward said referring to Texas A&M. The Aggies were given credit for successfully transitioning to the SEC last season with a Big 12 offense.

“The only safety issue was to his [Saban's] record,” Ward added.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn last week at SEC media days said he thought it was a “joke” when he heard that stance. It should be noted that Saban's offense did go up-tempo at times late last season.

Preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State, fourth nationally in total offense last season, was among the leaders in plays per game (78). Baylor led the Big 12 averaging 82.4 plays. Marshall was the national leader averaging more than 90. Three of the Big 12's 10 teams ran more than 1,000 plays last season. The only league to have more was the Pac-12 (four).

“I do remember being frustrated that we weren't moving fast enough -- and it isn't the officials' fault,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They're doing the best they can. It had become an issue.”

It also depends on what you do with those up-tempo offenses. High-scoring Oregon averaged 1.78 points per minute of possession in 2012. National champion Alabama averaged 1.2 points.

“It was slower when we played other conferences,” Gundy said. “For the most part everybody in this league is trained to go fast.”

Another Big 12 coach said: “Our league was unanimous in, ‘Let's try it,' because things are happening so fast, they're [officials] missing too much. What's it hurt if we have another guy back there?”

The eighth official will line up in the offensive backfield opposite the referee who usually lines up on the quarterback's throwing side. Part of the new official's duties will be to take pressure off the referee and umpire by helping spot the ball.

“The real genesis came over the last couple of years with the evolution of the game,” said Anderson, himself an NFL official. “One of the things that became evident [is] that the only officials that really have the opportunity to get the ball in play are the referee and umpire.

“Many times in the game one or both of those guys, really, all they'd have time to do is replace the ball. Many times they're just working at getting out of the way. Once the ball is snapped you've got blocks you've got to watch out for, hits on the quarterback, pass/fumble rules. For the umpire he's needing to try to get out of the way of the linebackers and get back to his eight-yard depth."

In college, the umpire lines up on the defensive side.

“This is fresh territory, real ground-breaking stuff,” Anderson added.

The average fan probably won't notice but if an extra official helps the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia go up-tempo, will that help the conference's overall image in 2013? It's hard to find a national contender in the league this season.

“They can manage the game and see substitutions better,” said Oklahoma's Bob Stoops of officials. “It's worth looking at. I didn't notice it as much as [officials] did. They noticed they were in position better.”

An extra official will also help officials plug “holes” in their coverage, Anderson said. Because of the up-tempo offenses, the tackle on the referee's frequently went uncovered.

“To us the logical place to put an eighth official is somewhere near the tackle box,” Anderson said. “helping out on [calling] blindside hits to the quarterback. … [Also] I'll call it game management, spotting the ball, having somebody to physically putting the ball in place.”

The NFL experimented with using an extra official in 2010. The new official will have the title “alternate referee” and wear an “A” to identify him.

 
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