Officials to wear wireless mikes

SEC officials will have a new look Thursday night when South Carolina plays Vanderbilt. Each on-field official will be wearing a wireless microphone system similar to those used in European soccer.

This system allows all officials, regardless of their position on the field, to talk to each other. By rule, only the referee had previously been allowed to wear a microphone. The SEC applied for and received an NCAA waiver to test the system in select conference only games this year.

"We tested this in the spring games with LSU and Texas A&M," said SEC supervisor of officials Steve Shaw. "Not only does it help with the officials communicating with each other quickly, but it improves communication with the coaches."

One example he gave from a spring game was that when a play was made downfield, at the end of the play, a dead ball personal foul was called. Instead of running back 20 yards to the referee and umpire, the calling official simply told them on the wireless microphone what happened and why he called the foul. Across the field, the coach was asking the side judge what the call was. The side judge was able to ask the calling official and could quickly relay to the coach that the defensive player threw a forearm to the head of the receiver after the tackle. This all happened within seconds.

"The promise of the system is immediate interaction both pre-snap and post-snap," Shaw said. "It also keeps all seven involved and engaged in the game."

The system is sure to improve the speed of the game by limiting officials' need for physical proximity to communicate.

LSU coach Les Miles agreed to allow the system to be tested during the Tigers' spring game under the condition that he could listen in. So for the second quarter, Miles listened to the officials' exchanges.
Shaw says Miles was blown away.

"He thought it was great and really kept everybody involved in the game," Shaw said.

This system has been widely used in European soccer games for years. The SEC is testing two systems: Vokkero, a European company with broad soccer experience, and CoachComm, a company already providing wireless systems to the majority of American coaches.

Every official will have a wireless pack on their belt. Some are listen-only/push-to-talk devices; others are constantly open so all can hear the steady stream of dialogue.

Shaw says after the test period this season, the SEC will provide the NCAA and Football Rules Committee with feedback to see whether it is something they want to approve and implement on a full-time basis.

Shaw says he hopes the test period will show whether the system is able to hold up during a SEC football environment with all the cellphones, texting and other wireless interference in the stadiums, and to see if it improves the level of officiating of the crews using the system when they evaluate the performances postgame.

The Big Ten also tested the system during the spring.

Holly Rowe covers college football for ESPN.