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Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany owes college football fans an apology

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.


The Michigan Wolverines lost their annual rivalry game with the Ohio State Buckeyes this past Saturday. Ohio State won the match-up by a final score of 30-27 in double overtime. After the game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was critical of the officiating in the game. This has led to fines and a formal reprimand from the Big Ten.

This article will not address either of those topics. Here is some information that should, however, be of real interest to college football fans.

The officiating crew for ‘The Game’ on Saturday included three notable individuals: Kevin Schwarzel, Bobby Sagers, and Daniel Capron. Here is some background information about each of these gentlemen.

According to The Athens News Kevin Schwarzel hails from Ohio and is a lifelong Ohio State fan. Here is a quote from the article (emphasis mine).

“Schwarzel was an Ohio State fan growing up, and said he was excited to be on the field for the Ohio State/Texas game, which featured (at the time) the top-ranked team in the country against the second-ranked team. His crew worked the Ohio State/Michigan game this fall, which also featured the two top-ranked teams at the time, but Schwarzel was not allowed to work the huge game because he is from Ohio.”

Bobby Sagers who served as one of the side judges for the game this weekend is also from Ohio.

Finally, Daniel Capron was the head referee this past Saturday. He has a fairly checkered history as an official. Capron was the head referee of a crew during a 2002 Purdue/Wake Forest football game. The performance was so bad he and his crew were fired by the Big Ten Conference (emphasis mine).

“During the course of the game, these officials did not officiate well enough to meet Big Ten standards,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement. “Therefore, they will forfeit future officiating assignments.”

Let me summarize the above material. The Big Ten does not allow referees to work a game that involves a team from the state where they live. This was the case with Schwarzel in 2006. Not only are Schwarzel and Sagers from the state of Ohio, Schwarzel was allowed to work the 2016 game even though he was barred from working Michigan/Ohio State games in the past. Even worse, the head official of the 2016 game was previously disciplined for incompetence not just by the league, but by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany himself.

michigan-ohio-state-2016Nevermind the particular allegiances that we may hold to teams from Michigan and Detroit. This is bigger than that. All college football fans should be concerned about this issue.

How on earth were these guys chosen to work the game? Even if we ignore the probable prejudice of Schwarzel and Sagers, Daniel Capron demonstrated a lack of proficiency as an official in the past that was bad enough to have him disallowed from officiating in 2002, by Jim Delany… who is still Big Ten Commissioner today.

We rely on the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA to preserve the sanctity of competitive athletics. Referees are not perfect. They are human. They make mistakes. Instant replay has even been instituted to try and assist officials who are making incredible difficult judgment calls in the heat of the moment in front of thousands of screaming fans.

As fans, coaches, and players, we enter into a social contract trusting that every effort has been made to have the games be officiated as objectively as possible, to get as many calls correct as possible. This is the key component to all competitive sports.

Jim Delany has broken that contract. I cannot, for the life of me, think of any good reason to hire a referee who has been fired for incompetence, fired by the man who calls the shots for the conference no less.

This isn’t about Michigan losing or Ohio State winning. It isn’t because this was a “big game” or an “important match-up.” All college football games are important. Players spend hours practicing and preparing to compete. Coaches utilize their important position as 4430_big_ten_conference-alternate-2012educators of young men to encourage them to grow as players and people. Tickets are sold. Championships are awarded. Records are set and broken. The sanctity of the competition is of paramount importance. The games are meaningless if the officiating is not as objective as possible. The foundation of the sport is built upon this objectivity.

Jim Delany owes the entire college football world an explanation. And probably, an apology. He and the Big Ten made a big mistake.

We, the entire college football community, deserve answers to the following questions.

  1. How are officials chosen for games?
  2. The policy is to not hire officials to work games that involve teams from the state where they live. Why was that ignored in this case?
  3. When was Daniel Capron re-hired as an official?
  4. What was the criterion used to determine that Capron is now able to “officiate at Big Ten standards?” In other words, what has changed since he was fired for failure to officiate at proper standards in 2002?
  5. How many games have been officiated by referees that were previously found to be incompetent? How long has this been going on? How widespread is this problem?

This is not sour grapes about Michigan losing. This is bigger. The use of these officials this past weekend should bother all college football fans. No matter which team you cheer for, first and foremost, you cheer for the game to be real. The fact that Daniel Capron is back reffing in any capacity, let alone functioning as head referee at any Big Ten football game, deserves an explanation.

*Carl will be joining The Drive on ESPN Blacksburg on Wednesday at 5:30 ET/4:30 CT to further discuss this trending article. You can listen to the interview by using the Tune In App and searching for WKEX or you can wait and listen to the podcast by going to @PaulVWags on Twitter later on Wednesday night.

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