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Ref Central

Postby slowkidz » Wed Sep 24, 2003 5:15 pm

Man! I wonder if they're hiring??? :-?

Interpretation station: Welcome to 'Ref Central'

Sept. 22, 2003

Thirteen seconds are left in a tied game between
the 49ers and Rams. An onside kick by San
Francisco's Jeff Chandler bounces into St. Louis'
Rich Coady, initiating a delicious scramble. It
appears Coady has possession as he falls to the
turf, reaching out with his hand to soften the
contact. The ball eventually slides loose, and
the 49ers recover.

The officials rule the play a fumble, but it is
reviewed. In the FOX broadcasting booth, analysts
Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth are watching
replays. Aikman talks to the viewers about
whether the back of Coady's hand hitting the
ground while he still had control of the ball
constitutes "down by contact," ending the play
before the fumble. Neither announcer knows the

At NFL headquarters in New York, Mike Pereira is
shouting. "Doesn't matter," he yells. "The hand
doesn't matter." Pereira should know. As the
league's director of officiating, he is a master
of the complex rulebook. In past years, Pereira's
knowledge would not have helped Aikman or
Collinsworth, who likely would have continued to
wonder about the hand contact.

But on this second Sunday of the season, Pereira
quickly receives a phone call from Collinsworth.
"This is the rule," Pereira tells him. "Whether
it is the back of the hand or the front of the
hand, it doesn't matter. It doesn't end the
play." Collinsworth hangs up and within 5 seconds
relays to his audience word for word what Pereira
said -- except he doesn't give any credit to
Pereira. The 49ers get the ball.

In New York, Pereira and a small group of men
sitting within the NFL's officiating command
center -- Ref Central for short -- laugh. "He
forgot to mention your name," says Jay Manahan,
statistical coordinator in the officiating
department. "Doesn't matter," says Pereira. "He
got the rule right. That's what is important."

For Pereira, that brief interaction with
Collinsworth reinforces one of the reasons behind
the league establishing Ref Central. It was a
proactive attempt to temper some of the
inevitable Sunday controversies over officiating.
By relaying correct rule interpretations to
announcers as games are unfolding, Pereira and
Larry Upson, the league's director of officiating
operations, hope it's less likely fans and teams
will become increasingly agitated over problems
created by bad information emanating from the
broadcast booth.

Every Sunday, Pereira or Upson spends the day in
Ref Central, which during the week serves as the
nerve center for the league's officiating
department. Inside the room, every game is shown
on separate monitors with backup TiVo tapes. NFL
employees are assigned to each screen; on a form,
they record each penalty, each injury, each
replay and any other controversial or
particularly interesting play. They alert Upson
or Pereira if a coach becomes upset over
officiating and when announcers become entangled
in rules questions. The monitors are arranged in
a horseshoe-type alignment in the front half of
the room, which is dominated by an 8-by-10 foot
television screen. With a push of a button, any
of the games can be instantly switched to the big
screen so everyone can have a huge view of the
play of the moment.

On this Sunday, there are nine early games and
plenty of electricity in the room. Pereira is
pivotal in generating this air of excitement. He
is a combination ring master, dictator, comedian,
authority figure and wheeler-dealer. In a
business full of extreme opinions and constant
second-guessing, he has a perfect personality for
his job. A naturally outgoing man with a knack
for easy conversation, he can be charming and
funny, emotional and full of laughter yet firm
and steely strong in his rulings, a confidence
that comes from his comfort with the rules.
Before his 11 hours of game monitoring are
finished, he will need every one of his character


It is 12:30 p.m., and Pereira receives a call
from Jacksonville. The instant replay equipment,
including the backup VCR, is not working. "Wow,"
he says. "Wow. This has never happened before."
He alerts Peter Hadhazy, the NFL's director of
game operations, who is sitting in another room
filled with TV monitors, making sure there are no
game-related problems during the afternoon. "If
there is a replay situation," Pereira tells him,
"we will wait the full 2 minutes, then make an
announcement that the equipment is not
functioning so the play will stand as called, and
there will be no timeout charged. Just like our
policy calls for."

Twenty-five minutes later, Atlanta checks in. The
replay equipment isn't working there, either.
"What?" asks Pereira incredulously. "I can't
believe this is happening." Soon, both stadiums
report the backup system is up and running.

"OK," he tells his staff, "let's look at these
games as referees, not as fans. Keep your eyes on
the monitors, and let me know what is going on."
He pauses and preaches to the officiating crews
in the stadiums, even though they can't hear him:
"Come on, good officiating today, babies; good
officiating today. All good calls."

Ref Central has its roots in the aftermath of
9/11, when the league began monitoring game
security and other issues from New York. Val
Pinchbeck, the former senior vice president of
broadcasting who is now retired, had been a
longtime advocate of a central location where
games could be viewed from an officiating
perspective to help improve communication with
the networks. Pereira also thought it would help
him get a quicker handle on game-day
controversies, so when he walked into his office
early Monday morning, he already would know which
plays were being debated and what coaches would
be upset. And, because he already would have
reviewed the plays in Ref Central, he would have
a preliminary answer about the correctness of the
calls. Before, coaches and teams might have to
simmer until late Monday or Tuesday for league
feedback. Ref Central proved successful in 2002,
its initial season; this year, the NFL added open
communication with the broadcast booths to the

On this day, all hell breaks loose in the room
early in the second quarter of the Saints-Texans
game. Pereira has been bouncing from monitor to
monitor, reviewing major penalties, commenting on
various plays, urging everyone to keep on top of
their games, begging his troops to keep games,
not commercials, on the big screen. The room is
lively, filled with voices yelling out big plays,
flags, injuries. Then, Texans receiver Jabar
Gaffney fumbles near the goal line. The ball
bounces into the end zone and the Saints recover,
but Gaffney is ruled down at the 2. New Orleans
requests a replay. Almost at the exact moment,
the Falcons recover a fumble by Redskins
quarterback Patrick Ramsey and take it into the
end zone. But the officials rule the play is over
at the Washington 1. Atlanta, which wants a
touchdown, asks for a replay.

"Put the Saints game on the big screen," Pereira
says loudly. He keeps glancing between the screen
and the monitor with the Falcons game. His phone
rings. It's the NFL observer in Atlanta. The
backup replay system is down. The play can't be
reviewed after all. "You've got to be kidding.
You told me it was working," he tells the
observer. The Georgia Dome crowd is informed
about the replay problem. But the Falcons still
are charged with a timeout. Pereira spends the
next 30 minutes sorting out the mess, making sure
the timeout is reinstated. Meanwhile, the Saints
lose their appeal on the Gaffney fumble.

"It's just the start of the day, and I am worn
out already," Pereira says. He paces like an
expectant father. At the 49ers-Rams game, FOX
announcer Joe Buck correctly explains the muffed
punt rule. "Good for Joe Buck," Pereira says. At
the Packers-Lions game, FOX analyst Bill Maas is
questioning on air whether an
incompletion/interception situation is
reviewable. Pereira calls him and tells him it
is. Maas quickly passes on the information to his
viewers, and he credits Pereira.

The league wants conversations with the networks
limited to rules interpretations, not questions
about the appropriateness of judgment calls. So
no matter what happens at Ref Central, all the
Sunday fires can't be doused. Still, by the time
the last of the early games is over, the
flare-ups for this afternoon seem minimal. Then
the Bucs and Panthers kick off.

Over the next almost four hours, the teams are
hit with 46 infractions, 33 of which are accepted
-- a near-record total. As more and more
penalties are called, Pereira becomes
increasingly depressed. Replays show the flags
seem warranted, but he knows his NFL superiors
won't relish what is happening. "This is a
disaster," he says at one point. But he doesn't
want the crew to stop doing its job. "If they see
something, they have to call it."

That evening, while the Bears-Vikings game is
unfolding on ESPN, he splices together a rough
tape of 25 plays from the day, including 11 major
penalties from the Bucs-Panthers game. The next
day, he will add commentary before the tape is
distributed to the commissioner's office and
other top league executives. It is something he
does every week, but this time there is more
sense of urgency.

It is 12:15 a.m. Pereira has watched every key
penalty call in all 15 games, seen every coach's
temper tantrum, noted every major injury,
disagreed from afar with a bunch of broadcasters'
comments, straightened out a few with phone calls
and wished that just once "instead of just
praising a good play, they would praise a good

He laughs. He knows even Ref Central doesn't have
that kind of influence.
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Postby Canadian Seahawk » Wed Sep 24, 2003 10:20 pm

great read thx ;-D ;-D I hope they hire canucks too :-)
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Postby Madison » Thu Sep 25, 2003 10:08 am

That certainly takes a lot of work. :-o

Thumbs up ;-D to Pereira and crew for the job. ;-D

Thanks for the article Slow! ;-D

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Postby Homeless » Thu Sep 25, 2003 11:12 am

Ok, I got about half way through then couldnt take the pain in my eyes anymore. :-o :-)
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Postby kashikis » Thu Sep 25, 2003 1:06 pm

that was a good article there slow!

definately a good read even for the length
No really, I'm not having a bad day.

What the hell.... is goin' on.... in the NFL?!
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Postby Homeless » Thu Sep 25, 2003 2:35 pm

kashikis wrote:that was a good article there slow!

definately a good read even for the length

Im guessing given recent posts that you had to think twice before using the word "length" :-)
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Postby hayesb26 » Thu Sep 25, 2003 4:24 pm

lol nice article ;-D
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Postby cwebb » Fri Sep 26, 2003 4:37 am

Great read! anyone know where to apply?

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