By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Related Article: Q&A with Steve Shaw
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The visible element of a Southeastern Conference football official’s job is on display for three hours each Saturday in the fall in stadiums across the league’s 11-state footprint.
The role of an official in the SEC, however, is one that takes many hours of preparation, training and review away from the field. One major way in which SEC Coordinator of Football Officials Steve Shaw is helping prepare his crews is through a revolutionary use of technology.
“I believe that video work will make you a better official,” Shaw said from his office in Birmingham on Monday. “We have modernized our film-grading process, as well as the film that is now available to the officials and what they can do with it. What our video guy, Cole Cunningham, can do now is off-the-chart amazing.”
Part of each official’s weekly routine consists of watching weekly training tapes produced by the conference office, in addition to reviewing their own performances from the previous week. Officials are provided a unique perspective of games called an inter-cut, where they are able to view the TV video feed and the coaching video feed simultaneously on the same screen.
“Not only are we able to watch our video, but our officials can share it with one another, ask questions and do training around video,” said Shaw, who noted that much of the training work done in the spring is focused primarily on video. “Our work with video is revolutionizing how we improve in officiating.”
Much of Shaw’s time on Sundays and Mondays following a game week consists of responding to inquiries that each of the 14 school’s head coaches have sent in to receive additional understanding of certain calls.
Shaw is able to provide video clips and a voice-over explanation to the coaches regarding each of the plays and calls in question. This has strengthened his crews’ relationships with each institution’s coaching staffs and has allowed players to better refine techniques to reduce penalties.
“For so many years, coaches would send in plays that they wanted reviewed on a spreadsheet and then we would type in the answer – correct call, incorrect call or marginal,” Shaw said. “That doesn’t really convey much. Now, doing a voice-over back to them, I can tell them the reason for a call. I can tell them what we’re looking for and explain things to them. They can coach their players better to avoid fouls in the future.”
Instant replay is another key element of officiating technology that has evolved over time. Now in its ninth year in college football, instant replay has played an important factor in ensuring that the correct call is made on the field.
“People ask me how I feel about replay and I tell them that I wouldn’t want our crews walking out of that stadium without the back-up of replay,” Shaw said. “The game has gotten so fast; it’s a difficult game to work and it’s good to have that extra security behind you with the replay that can correct a missed call. We appreciate it. Whatever momentary embarrassment there might be is wiped out by ultimately getting the call right.”
The fact that Shaw, who is in his third season as the SEC’s Coordinator of Officials, is not far removed from his days as a referee – his last game came Sept. 3, 2011 – has allowed him to both embrace current technology and also understand what it takes for an official to improve in today’s game.
“Walking in their shoes recently has helped me understand what is in their mind,” Shaw said. “It has also helped me understand what they need to do to get better. They want more interaction, more feedback and then ultimately more ways to improve using video. We’re expanding the capabilities that these guys have and, hopefully, it will just keep getting better and better.”