By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Steve Shaw is entering his third season as the Southeastern Conference’s Coordinator of Football Officials after a successful career as a referee in the league. Shaw sat down with the SEC Digital Network to discuss his offseason, a typical week as the Coordinator of Officials, and rules changes for the 2013 season, in this Q&A.
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SEC Digital Network: Of what does your offseason consist in your role as the SEC’s Coordinator of Football Officials?
Steve Shaw: “Our offseason is one of our most busy times, especially in the spring. I’m going to camps, scouting other officials and evaluating them. We also have two spring clinics where we bring everybody in – it’s like their spring training. We work on our fundamentals, our mechanics, our rules knowledge and do a lot of video work. We also have an opportunity for invitees to our camp – guys who are on our supplemental list or ones we are looking at adding. We put them on the field with our regulars and see how they perform.
“Since the end of last season, our officials have taken two quizzes per month that we send to them. They’re also working on their physical fitness. They have to run their mile and a half, and now we’ve added a 5-10-5 and some other agility components that are pass-fail. If you don’t pass them, you don’t officiate. They then have to take a written test on their rules knowledge for the season.
“We really spend our clinic time back on fundamentals, mechanics and getting everything buttoned up for the season. As soon as our clinics are over, our guys are off working scrimmages. Each official probably gets in at least 3 to 4 scrimmages – some many more – just so that we can get back acclimated to the speed of the game. It’s been a very busy, hectic time and that’s why I’m excited to get the season started.”
SEC Digital Network: What are some rules changes for the 2013 season that will be of most interest to fans?
Steve Shaw: “There’s no question that, this year, the one rule change that has gotten everyone’s attention is the new penalties associated with targeting. The targeting rule per se hasn’t changed. Targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders or targeting a player with the top or crown of your helmet is a targeting foul. That part hasn’t changed. We’ve expanded the definition of what a defenseless player is this year. For example, a quarterback after a change of possession now stays a defenseless player this year. A punter, not just while he’s in the act of punting the ball, but now for the entire return, stays a defenseless player. Any player who is receiving a blind-side block is a defenseless player. Does that mean you can’t hit these defenseless players? No, you can hit them. You can make very hard contact with them. You just have to stay below the shoulders. This is really about player safety.
“The big change that fans are going to notice is that when a player is guilty of a targeting foul, there won’t be a debate by the officiating crew now. By rule, that player is disqualified for the rest of the game. If the foul occurred in the second half of the game, he is disqualified not only for the remainder of that game, but for the first half of the following game. That’s very different.
“Instant replay now carries a role in this. Any time we have a targeting foul now, instant replay will review that play. If the replay shows that there was no contact above the shoulders then they can overturn the ejection component of the foul and put that player back in the game. We’ll do that before the next snap. The 15-yard penalty will stand, but the player will go back into the game immediately. Mechanically, it will work like any other replay. It may not stop the game. If they can get one or two quick looks and there’s no question that it was a targeting foul, then we’ll let the game go. But if they’re not sure, then they’ll buzz down to the referee.”
SEC Digital Network: Starting on a Sunday and going through the end of a Saturday’s games, what is a typical week like for you?
Steve Shaw: “On Sunday, we start the process of answering any questions or issues from the previous week. I’ll usually hear from the coaches on Sunday or Monday. That’s a routine thing – on a weekly basis, coaches will send in plays they just want reviewed for better understanding. Sunday through part of Tuesday is mostly just responding to coaches’ questions and plays that they want reviewed. I do a voice-over review back to them. It’s a rough cut – I’m talking over the video, but it gives them an indication of what our officials are looking for – was it a correct call or an incorrect call? Why and what were the components? It helps them to coach better and avoid fouls in the future. If we do miss a call, I’ll tell them why and, from our perspective, what mechanically we didn’t do properly. That communication is big.
“Each official receives a film grade, so we’re grading their film. Every play is reviewed. That’s due back to them on Wednesday. They have what we call an inter-cut, where they see the TV copy including replays, plus the coaches sideline and endzone video, which is a broader view. Combining those two together, you get a really good feel for how well the officials performed.
“I will build a training tape based on plays of note from the previous week, whether it’s a correct call or an incorrect call. We go over the learning points. Even if we got the call right, maybe we could have been better positioned. We usually try to get the training tape to them no later than late Wednesday or early Thursday morning. Every one of the officials also gets a weekly quiz that they have to work. The Friday night before a game, the crew meets together to receive their film grade and watch their previous week’s film. They do their quiz and put last week totally behind them so they can get ready for Saturday.
“For myself personally, I’m either at a game or in our Command Center on Saturdays. When Saturday night rolls around, we’re ready to gear it up for the next week.”
SEC Digital Network: What takes place in the Command Center on a typical Saturday and what is the environment like in the Command Center?
Steve Shaw: “In our Command Center, we can actually watch all the games that involve SEC teams, regardless of how many we may have going on. In there is typically the Commissioner [Mike Slive], myself, General Dick Burleson – a longtime SEC official, our video guy Cole Cunningham and a media relations person. We’re observing the game from a number of perspectives.
“We’re monitoring all of these telecasts so we know what’s going on and what issues we may have. It can be a pretty intense time. What helps me personally is that we get an early view of the crew’s performance and we know if there are any plays in a game that we need to be aware of and looking at. Then after the game, General Burleson talks with every one of our observers. We have an observer at every game, evaluating the crew. He’ll talk with them postgame and I’ll talk with the referee after the game just to close any open issues. There’s a lot of hours where you’re just watching a lot of football and everything is pretty calm, but then things can happen and it can get to be an intense place.”