- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten athletic directors this week approved the increase of football officiating crews from seven members to eight for all home games beginning with the 2014 season. A center judge, who will line up in the offensive backfield opposite the head referee, will serve as the eighth official.
The Big 12 first implemented eight-person officiating crews last season and will do again in 2014. The SEC will use similar crews this season, and the ACC also approved the increase this week.
The NCAA football rules committee has allowed each FBS conference to increase their crews if they want. The last increase, from six to seven members, took place in 1983.
"We're looking for improved officiating -- that's the No. 1 reason," Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo told ESPN.com. "We feel the eighth man can help that. It helps with quality, more accuracy and there's probably a few plays we're missing because of some blind spots, some gaps on the field with coverage."
The Big Ten has experimented with eight-man crews in spring practices and spring games the past two seasons. Carollo said the popularity of fast-paced spread offenses make it harder for officials to see everything on the field, especially with only one member behind the line of scrimmage.
"We're missing the backside run plays, the backside rollup blocks, chops, holding, et cetera," Carollo said. "There's no one there, so we go right to the point of attack or right in front of the point of attack. With one referee in the backfield, he's several yards off to the side of the quarterback, so he's trying to watch the quarterback and he's got line play. The only guy that can help him there is the umpire, so it gives us better coverage."
Carollo doesn't want or expect to see a spike in penalties from the extra official. Big Ten officials are under the national average in penalties called per game, and while Carollo admits non-calls might be the league's Achilles' heel, he wants to improve the overall accuracy.
The Big 12 had 52 penalties called by eighth officials in 2013, and 50 of them were later graded as the right decisions.
"We'll probably see an uptick slightly from 12 or 13 penalties to maybe one additional one," Carollo said. "But the more important question is, 'Of the additional flags, are they quality fouls, or are you just throwing it to have one flag for the game?' That isn't the case. The accuracy is very, very high."
The Big Ten also will adopt wireless headsets for officials so they can improve communication on items like player substitution and relay rulings to coaches in a more timely manner. The SEC adopted headset communication in 2012.
There are a few previous contracts for seven-man officiating crews, which the Big Ten will honor, but most games will feature the eighth official. Carollo will work closely with league coaches to address their questions about the center judge and how the expanded crews will monitor kickoffs and other unique plays.
"We have a lot of pressure on us to keep improving officiating," Carollo said. "If you really want to get more accurate and not miss a few things, and have a little better control of the game, and if you really do care about player safety, having an extra set of eyes to cover just the basic infractions on the field and to have a presence there, I think it can help."