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How To Complain About Nfl Referees Assignments

Here are the times and dates for the NFL 2017–18 postseason. All times are Eastern. Referee assignments will be posted when available.

Wild Card Playoffs

Crews | Coverage

Saturday, Jan. 6

  • ⁵Titans at ⁴Chiefs, 4:35 p.m. ESPNABC — Jeff Triplette
  • ⁶Falcons at ³Rams, 8:15 p.m. NBC — Ed Hochuli

Sunday, Jan. 7

  • ⁶Bills at ³Jaguars, 1:05 p.m. CBS — John Hussey
  • ⁵Panthers at ⁴Saints, 4:40 p.m. Fox — Tony Corrente

Divisional Playoffs

Crews | Coverage

Saturday, Jan. 13

  • ⁶Falcons at ¹Eagles, 4:35 p.m. NBC — Bill Vinovich
  • ⁵Titans at ¹Patriots, 8:15 p.m. CBS — Ron Torbert

Sunday, Jan. 14

  • ³Jaguars at ²Steelers, 1:05 p.m. CBS — Brad Allen
  • ⁴Saints at ²Vikings, 4:40 p.m. FOX — Gene Steratore

Conference Championships

Crews | Coverage

Sunday, Jan. 21

  • ³Jaguars at ¹Patriots, 3:05 p.m. CBS — Clete Blakeman
  • ²Vikings at ¹Eagles, 6:40 p.m. Fox — Ed Hochuli

Super Bowl LII

Sunday, Feb. 4

*designated home team

Know this about the college football officials who draw your ire on Saturdays: Their every move is scrutinized.

From the moment they leave home for a game, they're on company time. That means no beer with Friday dinner. And if their game is in Las Vegas, no restaurant attached to a casino.

Once they step onto the field, if they chitchat with a coach or athletic director from School A, they're expected to give equal time to School B.

Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, has heard coaches gripe about refs who seem to be waving to members of the crowd on one side of the stadium before a game.

Aha! I knew that zebra had friends on the other side!

And then Carollo informs the coach: The official was signaling to a crew member in the press box that his beeper was working.

Carollo met with the Tribune for three hours last week at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont to offer insight into the profession, review the season and break down some controversial plays.

Should a replay review have overturned J.T. Barrett's awkward fourth-and-1 scamper in the Ohio State-Michigan game? Should Ohio natives have been allowed to officiate the game? We'll get to that.

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But first ...

•Ever wondered how many plays occur in a Big Ten football season? With 10 bowl games to go, we're at 19,057 — 179.8 per game. That's a lot of opportunities to mess up.

"There are only two things that are perfect," Carollo says. "Your mother and your maker. We're human. We make mistakes."

Carollo also tells coaches: "The toughest job on the field belongs to the quarterback. The second-toughest — the officials."

It's routine to have to log 20 years doing high school or lower-level college games before getting a shot in the Big Ten. The scrutiny is intense. After games an NFL official spends five to six hours grading every play, using the TV replays and sometimes the "All-30" tape — a wide-angle view with all 22 players and eight on-field officials.

An example of when the "All-30" was needed: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty at Ohio State, but the TV replay could not reveal why. Harbaugh, who had been warned, protested a valid offside call (the center did not "simulate a movement") by slamming down his headset and flinging his play cards in the air.

The "All-30" video revealed that some cards landed inside the numbers, at least 25 feet onto the field. Under "The Football Code," the NCAA rulebook states that "conduct that might incite players or spectators against the officials is a violation."

One month earlier at Wisconsin, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was standing on the edge of the "white" that separates the field from the bench. He got smacked in the face by an official in mid-signal and was penalized 15 yards for "physical interference." That was a debatable call. Harbaugh's was not.

•After an independent evaluator (NFL ref) grades every play, the head referee reviews it with Jerry Markbreit, a veteran of 43 seasons and four Super Bowls, or Dean Blandino, the NFL's senior vice president of officiating. Carollo, a former NFL (two Super Bowls) and Big Ten official, breaks any ties.

The calls are graded on a scale of 0 to 7. Routine calls earn a 6, though points can be deducted for flawed positioning. Blown calls merit a 0 or 1. Top officials average near 6.

How to earn a 7? Save an entire officiating crew or make a proper ruling on the last play of the game. For example, the Michigan State Hail Mary that beat Wisconsin in 2011. A replay review reversed the call on the field; Keith Nichol had, in fact, broken the plane.

Carollo says his crews average 5.6 mistakes per game — and that includes incorrect mechanics or faulty positioning.

"People say: 'Where's the accountability?'" Carollo said. "We do a lot of things quietly; we sit down crews (for a game). That does not come out publicly, but I do tell the coaches (involved)."

The conference is serious enough about trying to get calls right that it spends about $1 million annually to train and grade its officials. Three characteristics it looks for: capability, the capacity to improve and character, which includes meshing with crew members and handling coaches professionally.

•To hear Michigan fans tell it — or show it on a 3-minute, 39-second YouTube video titled "Disgrace to the Rivalry" — the officials blew more than 5.6 calls on Nov. 26 at Ohio Stadium. And every one, they seem to believe, victimized the Wolverines.

Now for a closer version of the truth: There was one egregious no-call, as bad a whiff as the officials had at any moment of this Big Ten season. On third-and-7 in the first quarter, Michigan's Amara Darboh got fouled twice on one play — defensive holding and pass interference — and neither penalty was called. What makes it worse is he was the intended receiver.

Another no-call that went against Michigan came after Jabrill Peppers' third-quarter interception. Just as Peppers was being tackled, Ohio State's Mike Weber decked Michigan cornerback Brandon Watson, who was standing nearby, not involved.

The whistle had not blown, so technically the no-call was valid. But Weber's action fit the definition of unnecessary roughness. It was a cheap shot, the kind of hit that could start a fight. Carollo downgraded the official who declined to throw the flag.

Some Michigan fans also complained about a pass interference call, claiming J.T. Barrett's pass to Curtis Samuel was uncatchable. (Have you seen Samuel leap? It was not uncatchable.)

In double overtime, Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley had his right arm around Grant Perry as he broke up a short pass with his left. That's a 50-50 call that was not flagged.

And on the game's most controversial play — The Spot — Barrett was ruled on the field to have broken the plane of the 15-yard line when a Michigan defender contacted him. The ruling was close enough, Carollo said, that whatever was called on the field would not have been overturned by replay.

•Before "Disgrace to the Rivalry," the other part of the YouTube video's title is "Bobby Sagers and Kevin Schwarzel fix Ohio State/Michigan game."

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Perhaps the video makers were taking their cue from Harbaugh, who spent much of his postgame news conference railing on the officiating. The Big Ten reprimanded him and fined him a puny $10,000.

Spurred on by Harbaugh and perhaps the video, a radio station with more than 37,000 Twitter followers tweeted out Carollo's work phone number and extension with #FireBillCarollo and #BoycottB1GEvents. A security company is reviewing the threatening voice mails Carollo received.

Here's what makes the video so ridiculous: It includes a clip of an official patting Weber on the behind with "Bobby Sagers; Cincinnati, Ohio; Buckeyes Fan" burned above.

The official is not Sagers, according to Carollo. It's Brian Bolinger, who is from Indiana.

Carollo, by the way, instructs officials to keep their hands off players, for reasons of image and professionalism. In this case, Bolinger was saluting Weber for not retaliating after a tough hit along the sideline. But patting him on the butt was unnecessary and a bad look.

•The point made by the dozens of Michigan fans who emailed me after the Ohio State game was that Ohio natives should not have been allowed to serve as officials in the game.

The Big Ten has no residency rule, and here's why: Crews, especially the best ones, work together all season. (A crew consists of eight on-field officials, an alternate, two replay officials and an independent timer.)

The one sent to Ohio Stadium on Nov. 26 was Carollo's highest-rated crew, and it contained this geographic makeup: four from Indiana, three from Ohio, three from Michigan, one from Illinois, one from Pennsylvania.

If the conference had a residency rule, that crew would be all over the Maryland-Rutgers and Minnesota-Wisconsin games but not much else. (Incidentally, Carollo once jokingly asked Harbaugh if his team's drubbing of Penn State should have been invalidated by the presence of four officials from Michigan.)

What might draw extra scrutiny is if an official was next-door neighbors with a coach, if the official's son or daughter worked in the athletic department of a Big Ten school or if the official donated to a school that is not his alma mater.

Also, every official has to submit to NCAA-coordinated background checks. The Big Ten has used government agencies to peer into the bank records and any gambling habits of officials.

Extra scrutiny comes, Carollo said, "if anything looks or feels suspicious."

In 2007, a scandal hit when a Yahoo Sports investigation revealed that Big Ten referee/crew chief Stephen Pamon had a checkered past that included a $400,000 debt, in part from gambling losses. Commissioner Jim Delany responded by saying the conference would strengthen its background checks. In 2008, it announced Carollo's hiring.

"If we lose our integrity," Carollo said, "we lose everything."

•The Big Lead, a website with more than 27,000 Twitter followers, was among many to assert that Daniel Capron, who worked the Michigan-Ohio State game, had been fired in 2002. (The post linked to a 2002 story from the Purdue Exponent, a student newspaper.)

Actually Capron was not fired, but the eight-man crew performed poorly enough in the 2002 Purdue-Wake Forest game that it was essentially benched for one game.

"That was for calls that Capron had nothing to do with," Carollo said. "The crew sat down one game and returned for the rest of the season."

Michigan fans, and The Big Lead, also pointed to a 2006 clip from the Athens (Ohio) News in which Schwarzel disclosed he was an Ohio State fan growing up. (Imagine that, a sports fan reared in Ohio cheering for the Buckeyes.)

The 1,100-word story also included this sentence: "His crew worked the Ohio State/Michigan game this fall (2006), which also featured the two top-ranked teams at the time, but Schwarzel was not allowed to work the huge game because he is from Ohio."

Some Michigan fans treated that sentence as a smoking gun.

Carollo said the reporter — there's not even a byline on the story — simply got that wrong, given that the Big Ten has no residency rules for its officials.

•Some fans, of course, will always think their team is getting wronged. The Big Ten could help its cause by being more transparent after controversial calls, but the conference is generally fonder of trotting out this line: "The Big Ten considers this matter closed and will have no further comment."

Clickbait pieces fill the void, such as The Big Lead's "This Conspiracy Theory About the Referees in Ohio State-Michigan Has Some Merit" and a Dec. 1 Bloomberg Businessweek story under the headline, "Do College Football Refs Have It in for Your Team?"

The story alleges evidence that officials favor the team that has a better chance to make the College Football Playoff, thus enriching the conference.

"Protected flagships in the Big Ten did especially well with officials, the research shows," the story reads. "Ohio State, the conference's most competitive flagship team in the years (Rhett) Brymer studied, was 14 percent less likely to be dinged for a discretionary foul than, say, Purdue, a non-flagship team with little chance of contending for a national title."

OK. Is it also possible Ohio State commits fewer discretionary fouls because it's better than Purdue — better players, better coaching, better everything?

•Here's why you might want to consider that officials born in Ohio can properly call a game involving Ohio State: Their livelihood depends on it.

The highest-rated officials get the best assignments. Carollo can assign officials to games involving the Big Ten, Mid-American Conference or Missouri Valley Football Conference. If you could make $3,000 working a Big Ten game, $2,000 for a MAC game and $1,000 for a Missouri Valley game, which would you strive for?

And how about the concept of personal pride, doing your job competently?

•Targeting continues to be a focus for Carollo. In 2015, 24 targeting calls were made and 11 overturned. So far this season, 23 targeting calls were made and six were overturned.

Carollo said it should have been seven. During Michigan's aforementioned 49-10 drubbing of Penn State, Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Smith got penalized and tossed for a hit on Perry. The hit was above the shoulders and Perry was deemed defenseless, but there is an exception in the rulebook to "playing the ball," which Smith did. Replay should have reversed the call.

•After every season, each Big Ten team receives a report of about 50 pages reviewing its penalties.

The focus of Minnesota's will not be much of a mystery. The Gophers committed seven of the Big Ten's 17 targeting fouls. And Carollo said all were valid.

The most debatable came when linebacker Nick Rallis was ejected after contacting a Purdue player on the shoulder pad. But Carollo validated the call because Rallis led with the crown of his helmet, and the NCAA believes those hits are dangerous for the tackler.

The other 10 "confirmed or stands" targeting calls were against Illinois (three), Michigan State (two), Penn State (two but should have been one), Iowa (one), Michigan (one) and Nebraska (one).

Carollo hopes to visit with Minnesota coaches to talk about ways to reduce targeting penalties.

For the good of everyone, let's hope that happens.

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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