This is the first of a four-part series on college football officiating. The first part is fairly simple, about what it takes to become a FCS-level official. The second part will focus on the different positions of the officiating crew and their keys - the players and calls they watch on each play. The third will deal with post-snap keys or what happens during a play, and the fourth on why officials make the calls they make, i.e., why do they call holding the way they do?
Consider the early articles building blocks that culminate in the final article.
The series is a result of interviews with a friend who's in training to become a FCS-level head linesman. The purpose of the series to give fans some insight into what's happening with the officiating crew, and why they make the calls they make. This is not an excuse to second-guess and/or bash officials. If you have questions, please ask, but please be respectful.
What does it take to become a FCS-Level Official? What are the qualifications and experience required?
Like everything in life, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. You aren't going to wake up one day and all of a sudden pick up a NCAA Rule Book, study it and become a NCAA Official. You have to start at the beginning levels of football.
No matter what state you live in there is a organization that governs High School sports. For all of the states it is the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) which can be found at NFHS.org. The NFHS is the governing body that creates and decides rules for 17 sports throughout the country. Some states may alter those rules, but for the most part they are uniform across the country.
To become a football official (at least in Pennsylvania) you must score at least a 75% on the rule quiz. Once you've completed that challenge you must then join a local chapter where you have to attend meetings on rules and mechanics (which will be described later).
For the most part, how fast you move up the ranks is based on how much you want to put into it. There are some guys who are content with just doing Junior Varsity and midgets, but for now let's assume you want to get to the FCS level.
Absorb as much information as you can, which means buying a mechanics book, studying the rules, attend all the meetings, ask questions in the meetings (no matter how stupid you think they are), find a crew that does varsity games and ask them to take you along to scrimmages or games, and get in shape.
I cannot stress how important it is to look and stay in shape. You can be the best official in the world, but if you look out of shape, coaches and players will not take you seriously and it will be a black mark against you as you try and move up.
When you are out there at the scrimmages; ask questions and move around to work each position. There could be a time during the scrimmage where you are standing on the sideline not actually working; so instead of taking a break, go shadow another official at an unfamiliar position and ask him questions. I started out wanting to be a back judge, but when my opportunity came to move to varsity my second year it was at line judge. Luckily I was ready to take the challenge because I made sure to work and study up on all of the positions.
The move to college is much more difficult as you would imagine. You'll need to build a resume of a few years at the High School Varsity level before you can even apply to work in a college chapter. For the most part, you will start in the lower levels such as Division III or Division II. To move up in college is a lot like moving up in High School; staying in shape, studying the rules and mechanics, and doing scrimmages and JV games.
However, your performance on the field is scrutinized much more in college. Mistakes or missed called that you got away with in high school will bring greater consequences to you in college since every game will have an observer for the officials and a report is written up on every game and handed to your assignor, so in essence the better you perform the better the quality of games you will get within that conference or conferences and in the end it will help move up to the next level.
The FCS conferences are always looking at the lower levels for officials, and as I said in the last paragraph your performance has a lot do it with how fast you move up. Often times FCS Officials will still affiliate with the conferences which helped them move up to transfer their knowledge and teach up and coming officials. They will be the first to identify the up and coming officials and get them into the training pipeline.
Once in that pipeline you will still work the lower level games but be invited to partake in spring practices/scrimmages and fall ones. Those are on the job interviews where your performance is taped and graded, and if there are openings at the FCS level you will be considered based on your job at these spring and fall scrimmages.
As you can tell it is a long process to become a FCS Level Official, and if it is something you are considering this path, the younger you are the better advantage you have.