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The official story

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How the third team on the field prepares for each game
Football officials prepare to start the gameThe officials from the Sept. 22 game get ready for kickoff. Unbeknownst to many, officials do not just show up at the stadium and call a game; hours and hours of preparation go into every game. Photos by Tim Schoon.

People call them referees, but they’re not. Collectively, they are called officials, and only one is the referee. The others are umpire, back judge, head linesman, line judge, side judge and field judge. But anyone who wears a black and white striped shirt will always be called a referee, no matter their position, and they will get no glory but always plenty of grief.

Off the field, they are regular people with day jobs and families who pay the bills and stash away money for retirement and college educations. But to the general public they are mysterious and cryptic, unknown members of the third team on the field. They have their own culture, their own way of watching a game, their own understanding of the rule book that most fans, bloggers, columnists, announcers, and even players and coaches don’t understand.

If the first few weeks of the NFL season showed us one thing, it’s that officiating a football game takes more than pulling on a striped shirt and blowing a whistle. It takes hours of preparation for each game, adding up to hundreds of hours each season, thousands of hours in season after season to manage games with athletes as big and fast as you find on NFL and Division I college football teams.

All of that experience would be key for the crew that officiated Iowa-Central Michigan Sept. 22 at Kinnick Stadium, a game filled with twists and turns that got off to a fast start and ended in bizarre fashion with a 32-31 CMU upset win. It also saw the officials flag Iowa for nine penalties, six of them personal fouls or pass interferences, which drew little more than a few mild protests from Coach Kirk Ferentz, a man who’s not known for keeping his disappointment with officials’ calls to himself.

“Undisciplined would be a good word for it,” Ferentz would say about his team afterward. “Sloppy, undisciplined, however you want to look at it. We didn’t deserve to win.”

It’s the kind of game when all of that preparation by the officials pays off.


Tom Snee, University Communication and Marketing, office: 319-384-0010; cell: 319-541-8434


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