In a letter sent to Pac-12 executives following the 2018 season, three former football officials offered a sharp, detailed critique of the conference’s officiating program and asked “for necessary changes in a positive manner.”
Mack Gilchrist, Charles Czubin and Fred Gallagher, who have more than 100 years of experience as Pac-12 officials, directed their criticism at commissioner Larry Scott and vice president for officiating David Coleman, but they did not let general counsel Woodie Dixon off the hook.
“We do not appreciate the direction this Conference is headed under your direction by disgracing its long and respected heritage,’’ they wrote to the conference in late December.
Calling the Pac-12 officiating program a “laughing stock” within the Power Five, the authors focus on several core issues, including Dixon’s controversial interference in the replay review process last season, bowl assignments, position supervisors, the authority of instant replay officials and the conference’s training program.
Gallagher, who has served as the instant replay official in the College Football Playoff, also told the Hotline that both Coleman and Dixon have entered his replay booth during games to ask about replay decisions and sideline conduct situations.
“I said, ‘Woodie, I’m in the middle of something’’’ he recalled.
Gilchrist retired after the 2017 season. Gallagher and Czubin say they “were retired” by the conference after the 2018 season.
“They said, ‘We need you to move on,’’’ Gallagher said. “I spent 43 years in the conference. I love it. I love the schools. I hate what’s going on.”
The conference declined to comment on the contents of the letter, which was sent to both Scott and Coleman via certified mail on Dec. 26 and arrived just after the New Year.
By February, the authors had received no response. Follow-up emails were sent to Coleman on Feb. 11-12, seeking a response and “open discussion” about the concerns.
Coleman answered immediately that the officials would receive “a response to the letter.”
Two weeks later, having not yet received the response, the officials mailed a copy of the original letter to this reporter with the following explanation: “We are hopeful that you will read it and view our sincere concerns. Our purpose is to make sure that it is not swept under the rug and it is presented to the Sibson Firm.”
On Feb. 22, the conference revealed that it had retained Sibson Consulting to conduct an independent review of the football officiating program. That process, according to a conference spokesperson, was the cause of the delayed response to the officials — Scott and Coleman were waiting until they knew the identity of the outside firm.
A copy of the original letter to Scott and Coleman also was sent to the four athletic directors serving on the Pac-12 officiating sub-committee, which pushed the conference to hire Sibson: Arizona State’s Ray Anderson (chair), Colorado’s Rick George, Oregon’s Rob Mullens and Oregon State’s Scott Barnes.
In early March, the officials received an email response from Scott, who indicated in the final paragraph that he would “share your letter with the outside experts.”
“That’s the one thing we wanted to hear,” Czubin said.
That process is already underway. The letter has been shared with Sibson, according to a conference spokesperson, and Gallagher, Czubin and Gilchrist will be interviewed as part of Sibson’s due diligence.
The letter was the first item on the agenda Wednesday at a previously scheduled meeting between Coleman and the Pac-12 Football Officials Association, a voluntary organization not affiliated with the conference. (Football officials are independent contractors.)
The association, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting, “did not condone the contents of the letter or approve of it being sent to the conference.”
The letter focuses on the authors’ view of the culture, processes and policies underpinning Pac-12 officiating and what they consider to be questionable decisions by the leadership team.
“It’s disappointing it got to this point,’’ Czubin said, “but we’re trying to shed light on it. We’re not trying to be a cause célèbre …
“The officiating culture is one of honesty and integrity. People can boo, and we may make mistakes. But there has always been integrity. The Pac-12 being a media conglomerate now, there’s a chasm between the officiating people and the Pac-12 people.”
• • •
The first specific topic addressed in the letter begins: “Let’s start with the Woodie Dixon incident.”
This refers to Dixon calling into the command center in San Francisco and influencing the replay review process on a targeting no-call during the Washington State-USC game.
Dixon’s actions were recorded by the instant replay official, Gary McNanna, and eventually became public in the infamous Yahoo report in early October.
That incident — arguably the most serious crisis of Scott’s tenure as commissioner — caused such damage to the integrity of Pac-12 officiating that it eventually drove the athletic directors to push for an independent review by Sibson.
“Mr. Scott,” the letter says, “you know from personal experience this is not the first time (Dixon) has far overstepped his bounds, reference the former Supervisor of Officials.”
Tony Corrente served as head of Pac-12 officiating for three years before abruptly resigning midway through the 2014 season, citing personal and professional differences as the reason for his departure.
Gallagher recalled a conversation with Corrente, a longtime NFL official: “Tony told me, ‘I just resigned,’ and then it was ‘Woodie this’ and ‘Woodie that.’’’
Asked if he had any knowledge of Dixon influencing a call on the field or in the replay booth (beyond the incident in the Washington State-USC game), Gallagher said: “I can’t honestly say if he has.”
He did, however, cite two examples of Dixon and Coleman entering the replay booth at Stanford Stadium during games. Gallagher was the instant replay official both times.
He didn’t recall the opponent or date of the incident with Dixon but believes it was either 2012 or 2013.
“The door didn’t lock, so we put a wedge in the bottom to keep people from coming in,’’ Gallagher explained. “He forced his way in. He kept pushing the door to move the wedge.”
Dixon entered the replay booth and, according to Gallagher, asked about the conduct of the opposing coach.
“I have no idea, Woodie,” Gallagher responded. “I’m not looking at the coaches. That’s not my job.”
Coleman’s entry into the replay booth was more recent — he was hired in 2015 — and involved a replay decision, although Gallagher could not recall the specifics of the play.
“He said, ‘Fred, why didn’t you stop the game?’’’ Gallagher said. “I told him, ‘Because it was a no-competitive effect play.’” (Replay officials don’t stop the game to review every mistake.)
The presence of Dixon and Coleman in the replay booth could be interpreted as a rulebook violation based on Rule 12 (Instant Replay), Section 4, Article 3A, which states:
“All equipment used reviewing a play during the replay process and the personnel using that equipment shall be located in a separate, secure location in the press box. This room shall not be available or accessible to any person not directly involved in instant replay.”
• • •
The letter goes on to state that after Dixon’s involvement became public in the Yahoo report, the conference made changes to its process:
“After the latest incident there is no question the Conference was far more concerned about covering this up and finding the source of the info, rather than dealing with Woodie. You did so by removing a very valuable training tool for IR (instant replay).”
That training tool, the authors explained, is Quik Ref.
Described as a “reporting device,” Quik Ref is an online system that allows on-field and replay officials to file reports on their games.
“The information in that Yahoo report,” Czubin said, “was on Quik Ref.”
Pac-12 instant replay officials were able to log-in to Quik Ref and read reports from other games, then use an online video platform, Hudl, to watch the relevant plays.
“You use it as a training tool. We’d call each other and say, ‘What did you see there?’’’ Gallagher explained. “Then they took it away” after the Yahoo report.
“As of that date, nobody has access to other games, to prevent leaks,” Czubin said. “We’re all cut off from access. It’s hurt the replay process.”
• • •
The authors also accuse Coleman of undermining the authority of the instant replay officials.
On a conference call in mid-November, the letter explains, Coleman informed referees and replay officials of a new protocol: The replay supervisor in the conference’s command center in San Francisco, not the booth officials, would have “final say” on all replay matters, according to Gallagher.
The NCAA rulebook (Rule 12, Section 1, Article 2) seemingly gives authority to the booth official:
“The replay official may reverse a ruling if and only if the video evidence convinces him beyond all doubt that the ruling was incorrect. Without such indisputable video evidence, the replay official must allow the ruling to stand.”
However, there appears to be some nuance to this rule, as Rule 12, Section 4, Article 3A states:
“As an ongoing experiment, a collaborative decision-making model during instant replay reviews that is in full compliance with Rule 12 is not limited to the press box of a stadium.”
In the SEC, for example, the instant replay official in the booth is the final authority on all replay decisions.
The letter also goes into great detail about the role of position supervisors, the conference’s development program and bowl assignments.
At the close of the note sent to the athletic directors serving on the officiating subcommittee, the authors write:
“Gentlemen, It is our sincerest desire that this committee recognize and implement the necessary changes to correct and improve this deteriorating officiating program. We stand ready to assist you with any questions/clarifications in your endeavors.”
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