In Play with Tom Markowski

Many officials join the modern age, use headsets to better communicate with coaches

Football   | Tom Markowski

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The communication between officials and football coaches can be difficult, at times contentious, during a game. Often questions coaches have can go by the wayside due to the pace of the game. That can lead to heated words later.

Thanks to a simple device, headsets much like a coach in a press box would use to communicate with a coach on the field, officials have the capability to talk with each other on the field during a game without wasting time to run the 40 yards to speak face-to-face.

What took you so long?

Seriously, this will aid in how games are officiated and could shortened the length of a game.

Not all crews are using it. For one, it cost $40 per official and the cost is incurred by the officials. It’s a one-time purchase and an official who worked the West Bloomfield-Clarkston game last Friday said he wouldn’t work a game without one. When asked what the downside is he said that the channel his crew is using can, accidentally or otherwise, be used by a third party. That problem is easily solved by switching to another channel.

The cost can also be a deterrent.

Mark Uyl, assistant director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the coordinator of officials for all sports, said it is not mandated by the MHSAA but that the use of the headsets is seen as an improvement in how games are officiated.

Uyl served as an official in the MIAA (Michigan Independent Athletic Conference) for over a decade. In addition to officiating college football games, Uyl also worked as an umpire at the College World Series in 2014.

“It migrated from soccer,” he said. “A few officials came to me and asked if they could use them. This is the third year we’ve used them. We’ve got about 40 crews around the state that use them.

“In the old days if a coach asked a question on the sideline the official would have to wait until the next play was over before asking the other officials.

“In the beginning officials would tell me there would be too much chatter between officials. Once they got used to using it it’s been terrific.”

Let’s use an example in an attempt to show its effectiveness. If a play occurs on the opposite side of the field on Team A’s sideline, the coach from Team B most often will not see the play clearly, whether a play was ruled out of bounds or where the ball was spotted in the case of a possible first down. The coach from Team B can ask the official near him to ask the officials on the far side what the ruling was without stopping play, or taking seconds off the play clock, run across the field and ask the question. It can be done in a few seconds.

Another benefit is to the fans and, more importantly, to the game announcer in the press box. The head official is able to use his headset and announce a first down or the precise ruling on an infraction so that the crowd and those in the press box can hear the ruling explained, not just learning the ruling through hand signals.

Having seen this new technology work at field level the game did appear to move at a better pace without more frequent and often unnecessary delays.

From the officials’ point of view, if they can officiate a game without causing additional confusion by both coaching staffs all the better.

“It’s a one-time thing,” Uyl said of the cost. “(The officials) look at it as a paying investment.”

For the record, football officials are paid approximately $65-$70 per game. Uyl added that many football officials will work the Thursday before the Friday varsity game officiating the junior varsity or freshmen games, or both.