Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of College Football Officiating, provides insights about rules changes and the mindset of college football referees. The CFO is the national professional organization for all football officials who work games at the collegiate level.
The number of officials working a college football game has changed many times over the years. In the earliest days of the game, there was only one, the referee. As the nature of the game changed over time officials were gradually added.
There have been seven officials in college crews since the late 1980s. The number seven slowly took hold over a period of several years, as one-by-one conferences adopted the current standard. Typically, money is an important issue whenever there is a proposal for increasing the number. The question always arises: given all the competing interests vying for the football dollar, how much should be invested in officiating?
Increasing the number of officials has never been done on a whim, but it has always been done to adjust the officiating to the way the game has changed. The past several years have seen more spread offenses and wide-open passing games as well as a noticeable increase in the speed of the players. To meet the officiating challenges in the changing game, some conferences have begun to take steps in the direction of putting crews of eight officials on the field.
In 2013, the Big 12 Conference received permission from the NCAA Football Rules Committee to use eight officials in each of its conference games. The eighth official, called the center judge (CJ), is positioned in the offensive backfield opposite the referee. The Big 12 was so pleased with the results that its institutions voted to use eight officials in all of its games in 2014.
The Big 12 cites three reasons for moving to eight officials: player safety, improved coverage of the action and better overall management of the game. Impressed by this positive experience, a number of Division I conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision will also have crews of eight officials in games this coming season. It will be interesting to watch this trend unfold over the next few years.