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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Scrutiny of officials working ‘The Game’ continues, Jim Delany stays quiet

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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 internet has been in an uproar about the officials that were chosen to work the most recent football game between University of Michigan and Ohio State University. Yesterday we discovered that two of the officials in the game were from Ohio. Furthermore, the head referee was disciplined for incompetence by the Big Ten in 2002. The college football world is waiting for an explanation from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. 

More information has now surfaced regarding the officiating crew for the most recent rivalry game. The Detroit News is reporting that John Wiercinski, another official from the game, lives in the state of Michigan. He also participated as an official for the 2015 rivalry game.

Another ref, Kevin Schwarzel, lives in Ohio. This precluded him from participation in the 2006 game between Michigan and Ohio State. However, he did officiate in the 2008 and 2015 contests.

Finally, head referee Daniel Capron and his crew officiated a 2002 game involving Purdue University and Wake Forest University. The Big Ten found their officiating to be so poor that Capron and his crew were made to forfeit future officiating assignments. Angelique Chengelis is reporting that Capron returned to officiating right away.

“Capron was back officiating Big Ten games in 2003. He was referee for the 2009 Michigan-Ohio State game.”

Here is a bullet point summary of what we know right now:

  • There were eight total officials on this particular crew.
  • Two live in Ohio. Of the two, one of them (Schwarzel) had been barred from participating in the 2006 Michigan/Ohio State game because of possible bias, yet, was allowed to officiate in 2008 and 2015. Did Schwarzel’s bias just disappear?
  • One official (Wiercinski) lives in Michigan. Does he not have a bias towards Michigan since he lives there? If Schwarzel was not allowed to officiate in 2006, doesn’t the same ruling apply to Wiercinski?
  • Even though the head referee, Daniel Capron, was disciplined by the Big Ten in October of 2002, he returned to officiating only one year later.

Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller was reached for comment by the USA Today regarding the incident. He is not happy about Daniel Capron returning to officiating.

“You would like to think that once they were semi-retired by the Big Ten that the Big Ten would say, ‘No, you’re done, period,’ ” Tiller, who coached at Purdue from 1997 to 2008, told USA TODAY Sports. “We had a real mess in that particular game from an officiating point of view.”

“My complaint was, ‘You know, everybody involved in the game is held accountable for their performance. The players are, the coaches are, the timekeeper is. But the officials come along and they seem to be untouchables.’ Certainly that was true in the Big Ten at that time.’’

So far representatives of the Big Ten have not commented on these stories. Daniel Capron also declined comment citing a rule that prohibits referees to speak to the media.

It is extremely important to note that this article is not an attempt to vilify any of the referees from this past Saturday’s game. Any follow-up questions need to be directed at the Big Ten exclusively.

The facts listed above should be very troubling to college football fans. Is this the best that the conference can do? Hiring officials that have a likely bias to either team on the field for the games? Returning substandard officials to work only one year after their suspension?

Joe Tiller mentioned in the USA Today article that he thinks that the best officials from the Big Ten move to the NFL. This dilutes the talent pool available to officiate college games. That seems plausible due to the salaries of NFL officials. A rookie NFL ref earned $78,000 in 2015; veterans earned $205,000 and the average salary was $173,000. Contrast that with the amount of money that Big Ten refs are paid. In 2006, each game paid $950 plus travel expenses and per diem.

The New York Times reported the following in 2014.

“Football referees can make up to $3,000 for 60 regulation minutes, but they work the fewest games of the four sports.”

Using those numbers, let’s say a Big Ten official works 12 games at the maximum rate of $3,000 per game. That equals $36,000 total pay. That would be the highest-paid referee working the maximum amount of games per season. That still falls $42,000 short of the rookie ref salary in the NFL; $137,000 short of the average NFL salary; and a whopping $169,000 short of the annual salary of a veteran NFL ref.

This begs an obvious question: Why doesn’t the Big Ten pay referees more to get higher quality applicants? It seems like a conference with an annual revenue of over $448.8 million dollars could budget a little more scratch for their officials. What the heck – they could at least increase the meal per diem.

There are still huge questions that need answers. The foundation of competitive athletics is built upon the fact that games are officiated impartially, objectively, and by the highest quality standard possible. Jim Delany made some changes in 2002 because some officiating didn’t live up to the standards of the Big Ten. Apparently, things have changed since then and all of college football deserves an explanation.

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