Justin Tinder, Sports Information Director
OKLAHOMA CITY – When the Sooner Athletic Conference introduces football as a league-sponsored sport in August, it will become the first NAIA league to adopt the use of eight-person officiating crews in an effort to better manage the pace of play and protect the well-being of players.
The agreement came after the league’s 10 head football coaches and athletic directors met last week in Dallas to discussed various policies and protocols in preparation the inaugural football season.
“One of the SAC’s priorities in taking on football as a conference sport is to do all we can to place these teams in the national spotlight and help them stand out as leaders in the NAIA ranks,” SAC Commissioner Stan Wagnon said. “The membership’s decision to utilize eight-person officiating crews aligns very well with that priority and will enhance the level of service we provide our players and coaches in administering these games.”
Wagnon said the primary purpose to add an eighth official is three-fold: player safety, better coverage and improved game management by providing more eyes and viewing angles for hits on the quarterback, blocking in the trenches, pass coverage downfield and targeting.
The extra official, known as the Center Judge, will help to better manage the pace of play, as well as offensive sets and play schemes that continue to become more spread out over the field. In addition the Center Judge frees up the Referee to observe more action, moves the Umpire out of the way in between snaps and allows the Line Judge to provide better coverage downfield.
“Having an additional set of eyes will reduce the scope of each official’s responsibilities, allowing them to call a more targeted and focused game,” Texas College Head Coach Charles Moss said. “This is a progressive decision, will have a positive impact on the conference, and sets the Sooner Conference apart as trailblazers within the NAIA.”
Coaches are not the only ones happy to have an extra official to monitor the game. Officials are on board as well.
“We sincerely appreciate the support of Commissioner Stan Wagnon, the Athletic Directors and Head Coaches of the Sooner Athletic Conference in adopting the use of an eight-person football officiating crews,” Tim Crowley, SAC Supervisor of Officials, said. “This will enable us to ensure more safety for the players, enhanced pace of play, game management and a better experience for the fans. This method of using eight-person crews has now reached all levels of college football and we are glad to be the first conference to use it full time in the NAIA.”
The new football league will include six current members of the SAC, as well as four additional schools that will join the league as single-sport members. These 10 institutions will compete for the inaugural Sooner Athletic Conference Championship this fall when the SAC begins its 40th season of intercollegiate competition.
With 10 teams sponsoring football, the SAC champion will be eligible for NAIA postseason play and the league will be represented with two national raters, both of whom will rate teams on the national level on a weekly basis.
The six full members that sponsor football are Bacone College (OK), Wayland Baptist (TX), Texas Wesleyan, Southwestern Assemblies of God (TX), Oklahoma Panhandle State, and league newcomer Langston University (OK). The four single-sport members are Lyon College (AR), Ottawa – Arizona, Arizona Christian and Texas College.
Football brings the number of sports sponsored by SAC to 17. The league also sponsors championships in baseball, wrestling, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s track and field – indoor and outdoor, and volleyball.