Pac-12 making officiating a priority


BURBANK, Calif. -- For all of the work Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has done to improve the image of the conference, there remains a giant zebra in the room -- officiating. Long the butt of social media jabs, quips and criticisms (see: #Pac12refs), the league's reputation when it comes to officiating is less than stellar.

That's a big reason why the league brought in David Coleman, the NFL's former director of officiating, to clean things up. It's why they'll let fans see what the replay officials see on the scoreboard. It's why they are adding an eighth official. It's a problem. And Scott wants to fix it.

Whether it gets fixed, however, won't be known until we start seeing yellow (or a lack thereof) on the field on game day. And Coleman knows it's going to be an uphill battle to change the perceptions of an already unpopular profession. Especially when Pac-12 officials are more unpopular than most.

"I have some awareness of [the reputation]," Coleman told ESPN.com. "When it comes to the quality of the officials overall in the Pac-12, there are excellent officials in this conference. Can we do things better? Of course we can. Can we be more consistent and transparent? Yes, we can."

For perspective, the Pac-12 was the most penalized conference in FBS football last year, both in flags per game (7.15) and penalty yards per game (65.1).

Transparency and consistency are two of the key points Coleman is stressing. Case in point: Oregon fans might recall Tony Washington's ill-timed bow in a loss to Arizona last year. The result of which was an unsportsmanlike penalty at an inopportune time. A couple of weeks later, Utah's Devontae Booker dropped a bow in the end zone after a touchdown run against Oregon State. No flag.

Asked about the inconsistency, a league spokesman said it was "a judgement call."

"No, there are about 10 or 12 things in the rulebook that you can't do and that's one of them," Coleman said. "What I'm driving for going forward is that consistency. I met with the coaches for two hours [Thursday] and that's what they want too. They want consistency. That's what I'm about."

Some have said the tempo of the league has made things more difficult for officials. And there's a fine line between a reason and an excuse. But Coleman said absolutely not -- and the addition of an eighth official, or "center judge", should aid with the pace of play.

"I wouldn't say it's more difficult than any other conference," Coleman said. "It's challenging. The up-tempo game makes it challenging. And we're looking at the fitness, mobility and stamina of our officials because we know we have a fast game. But that's game flow. I would not put it in the context of being more difficult."

So credit the league for 1) recognizing the problem and 2) addressing it, at least cosmetically for now. We'll know for sure when the flags start flying.