Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Other Boys of Fall-Is Officiating College Football Lean?

Thought it was about time to think about whether the art and science of officiating college football is lean, or if the process of developing people willing to get screamed at by tens of thousands of people on their "day off" follows some of the principles of the Toyota production system. Let's take a look at the "4 Ps" and see what YOU think.

1. Philosophy/Purpose-"Why are we in business?" Or "Do we have a clear reason for being?"-American football is an EXTREMELY emotional game, and the 7 game officials (plus 2 replay officials) are there for two main reasons. It is our job to ensure that both teams follow the rules of the game, and neither team gains an unfair advantage. The other reason is to help ensure the safety of the student-athlete. The Purpose is clear, and drilled in from the first time an official takes the field to officiate a game between fourth graders.

2. Develop your People and Partners-at the higher levels of officiating college football, the "off-season" consists of one month-January. Then we get right back at it. The Winter is spent doing weekly rules tests, and meeting with local study groups, and physical conditioning. In the Spring, the new rules for the upcoming season are published, and our Supervisors communicate with us to refine how we will interpret them on the field come August. The Spring is also when we have an opportunity to officiate Spring scrimmages, since Division 1 and 2 schools are allowed by the NCAA to spend about 4 weeks building their teams for the Fall. It is not unusual for the referees to work 7, 8, or 12 scrimmages. This time allows us to mentor younger officials, as well as a chance for Supervisors to decide who will be offered a contract for the Fall. Then there is the physical conditioning. In the Summer, there is a mandatory National Rules test to study for and take, and is also the time for our conference clinics. The clinics are the chance for officials to get together for 3 days or so and "get on the same page". We are given closed book exams, as well as fitness tests (we are weighed and the expectation is zero weight gain from last year-this requires a never ending workout regimen). 

3. The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results-Football in America is big business, and "the Right Result" is consistency in the application of the rules. As a fan, if you are watching UCLA vs. Oregon, LSU vs. Alabama, or Yale-Harvard, the right result is a game that is officiated exactly the same way. This type of Standard Work does not happen without incredible attention to detail and preparation. For example, if our football game is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1 pm in Philadelphia, the entire crew (who may travel 300 miles to get there) is required to be at the crew hotel by Friday evening at 6 pm. We have dinner as a crew, then review game film and our weekly rules test. On Saturday, we need to be at the game site 3 hours before kickoff, which we spend going through every possible scenario that may happen in the game, and how we will communicate with each other during the game, from the opening kickoff to overtime. This routine (kata) is repeated all 12 or 13 weeks of the season, even though most of us work with the same crew all year.

4. Make Your Problems Visible and the Core of Your Learning-talk about visibility! At each game, there is an Observer who's job is to evaluate and give feedback to the crew. They sit high in the press box, and give us areas to focus improvement on after the game. If the game is on Saturday, we are given access to the game film by Monday, and the Observer goes through the film, grading every call during the game. It is also not at all unusual for our "problems" to be on YouTube by the time we get home Saturday night. The focus of our pre-game discussion the following week will include any issues that came up the previous game. Every official is rated every game by the coaches, the observer, and their fellow officials with the purpose of continuous improvement. Mistakes will be made, and good officials and their crew  are constantly doing Plan-Do-Check-Act for years or decades.

Like your Lean journey, officiating football is about learning by doing. You can read the rules, go watch officials work or watch instructional video, but the game field is the classroom. Many of us have done hundreds of youth, middle school and high school games before ever doing a college football game. 

Well, I'm not sure if I've convinced you that officiating college football is lean, but I'm hoping I may have made you think twice before screaming insults or throwing stuff at us!!


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