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Canzano: Pac-12 officiating madness must stop

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The Pac-12 Conference won't tell me who will be on the officiating crew for the league championship game on Friday in Las Vegas. But the conference insists it will be an All-Star team of the best and brightest.

I'm interested to see who shows up for kickoff.

The conference grades its officials. It does a mid-season and end-of-season performance assessment. The Pac-12 tells me the title game will feature the "highest-ranking official at each position" — with a couple of interesting exceptions:

  • Officials can't work the championship game two years in a row.
  • First-year officials are not eligible to work the game.

Neither of those rules makes any sense. This isn't an end-of-season Vegas junket. It's a huge football game, with important postseason implications. USC is trying to get to the College Football Playoff. Utah wants a Rose Bowl berth. I'm certain the Trojans and Utes would prefer to see the highest-rated, most-talented officials working the game.

On Thursday, Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff and football supervisor Merton Hanks will hold a news conference. Typically, a "presser" is held on site in Las Vegas in front of the title game, but they're conducting this one via Zoom instead.

They won't have news on the media rights front, per a source. Don't expect that until after the UC Regents weigh in (Dec. 14) on UCLA's potential defection to the Big Ten. But they're smart guys, so I hope they have some answers on the officiating front.

I'm weary watching Pac-12 officials bumble around the field.

Bet you are, too.

I don't believe the conference officials are biased. I don't think there's a conspiracy against any school. I am certain the Pac-12's problems are systemic and fixable. I've written several times on the subject. I don't buy the tired "every conference has bad calls" excuse that the league trots out when I ask questions.

Pac-12 officials themselves are frustrated. I've talked with a number of them, not for attribution. They tell me the biggest issue is the lack of synergy and consistent training among crew members. Also, the Pac-12 has lost several high-rated officials to other conferences in recent years.

Unlike basketball, the Pac-12 doesn't have an officiating consortium with another conference. There's no minor-league feeder system in place for football. Instead, the Pac-12 throws together crews, sometimes using fill-ins or leftover officials from other conferences.

What is the Pac-12 going to do about the officiating?

Even if the league refuses to publicly acknowledge that its football officiating is subpar, the Pac-12 must know it has a brand/perception issue. It erodes the confidence in the product and reflects poorly on leadership. Larry Scott's Pac-12 remained in denial. Kliavkoff's Pac-12 shouldn't.

The conference is understandably distracted with the USC/UCLA disruption, media-rights, and possible expansion. Meanwhile, on game days the rest of us watch the officiating crews improperly spot the ball… lose track of the down… let the clock run out when it should be stopped… then, the "white hat" opens the microphone to explain and, often, makes it worse.

The madness has to stop.

Kliavkoff and Hanks need to speak on Thursday about what they plan to do this offseason to make the football officiating better. Form a task force? Replace the Supervisor of Officials, David Coleman? Create a consortium with the Big Sky Conference? Bring recently retired NFL referee and former supervisor Tony Corrente back as a consultant?



Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill told me he'd be willing to explore a minor-league system with the Pac-12 and Mountain West Conferences. That trio already works well together in basketball, where there is far more crew synergy and consistent training.

One Pac-12 official told me earlier this season that he fears the Big Ten Conference will poach the top officials. The Big Ten will need to hire new crews in the Pacific Time Zone to call USC (and maybe UCLA) home games in 2024.

"If the Pac-12 isn't careful, they'll take the best we've got," the Pac-12 official told me.

I'll bet the Big Ten tunes in on Friday evening to see who the highest-graded officials in the Pac-12 were this season. I'll be watching for it, too.

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John Canzano is a sports columnist and radio show host. He's worked at six newspapers and has won 11 Associated Press Sports Editors Awards in column writing, investigative reporting and projects. He lives in Oregon and hosts a daily statewide radio show there. Read more of his content at


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