Editor's note: Marty Simpson earned four letters and started 44 games for the Gamecock football team. In this feature, he takes a look at a topic as an analyst, letterman and comedian.
It turns out the $10 I bid on a Fantasy Camp Training Week with SEC Football Officials paid off. That's right, I got to spend a "week in training" with the referees of the SEC. Oh boy!
I kept a journal of my experience, sort of a "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," except mine is called...
Diary of a Mad Black and Garnet Place-Kicker
Day 1: Check-In and Registration
As soon as I indicated I was from South Carolina, I was promptly told to wait in the back of the line with guys from Vanderbilt and Kentucky. They said they were getting Alabama, Florida and LSU checked in first.
I said, "Can't I register before the Ole Miss or Mississippi State guys?" The head of officials just shook his head and pointed to the back of the line.
At the welcome meeting the emcee had everyone from Alabama stand up and made us all applaud for them. Then he said, "And the rest of you, thanks for coming."
Day 2: Officiating 101: How to Throw the Flag
This morning we had a great speaker discuss in complete detail the fundamentals of how to make a call.
First rule of SEC officiating is to know the teams' records of the game we are calling. If we think there is a foul on a team, we reach for our flag and grab it, and have it "ready" to throw. Then we assess whether the team we are calling the foul against is undefeated, and if so, we wait two seconds.
During this two-second pause, we must decide beyond all fear of contradiction if this penalty would jeopardize the team's chances of playing for the BCS title. If we are in doubt, we were instructed to find the white cap (head ref) trailing the play. He would be shaking his head back and forth if it is a bad time to penalize the undefeated team.
He stressed that this fundamental technique is very important to use anytime a traditional powerhouse team (noted as Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, or Auburn) is playing against any of the other teams in the conference early in the season. As well as whenever any SEC school is currently undefeated.
Day 3: What is Holding?
Day three was special. We got to hear from long-time SEC football official Chance Parlay. Yes, you read that correctly. One of the most widely used SEC football officials is named Mr. Parlay, which means "wager or bet."
Mr. Parlay brought along UFC Heavyweight Champ Randy Couture to demonstrate six different choke holds that could qualify as holding. All six should be called holding, unless, of course, the team executing the move is one of the traditional powerhouses and is playing against a non-traditional powerhouse.
If this is the case, only the last of the six chokeholds (the one that renders its victim unconscious) should be deemed a penalty on the offense. The traditional powerhouse teams are permitted to perform five of the six chokeholds when playing a non-traditional powerhouse, and all six if they are blocking against a highly touted true freshman from a non-traditional powerhouse.
Day 4: Your Eight Essentials of Being an SEC Referee
Chance Parlay taught us the eight essentials of being an official in the SEC.
#1 - If it's a noon kickoff during "deer season," make sure the game does not exceed three hours. There is no need to call every holding penalty that we see when there are deer waiting to be killed! Especially in Starkville. See MSU A.D. prior to game for map to the hunting lodge where we'll stay for the weekend while officiating in Starkville. (If you miss the A.D. you can find directions to the hunting lodge at "The Little Dooey" barbecue restaurant.)
#2 - If anyone on your crew is not able to show up, you may, at your own discretion, choose anyone from the state of Alabama to ref the game. Note: Don't tell anybody at the game.
#3 - If any underdog team happens to be leading in the fourth quarter of a conference game, never let them know that the replay official is actually playing "World of Warcraft" during the game. Frankly, never reveal this to either team.
#4 - Never tell anyone, ever, that we have a side bet between "just us refs" on each game we call. And never bet more than $10,000 on these side bets. Otherwise, your judgment calls could be affected by these side bets.
#5 - Never let a non-traditional powerhouse upset a traditional powerhouse by one score or less. If a lesser team is on the rise and can beat a powerhouse by two touchdowns there is nothing we can do. (See Jay Cutler's Vandy teams.) But if it's late in a game, make sure the "big-money schools" get their calls down the stretch if they are close enough to warrant them.
#6 - Never refer to these schools as "big-money schools" out loud outside of these referee meetings.
#7 - When in doubt, always go with Alabama.
#8 - If you enforce the above seven principles to the best of your ability, there may come a time when the league office will have to "suspend" you or your crew for a game or two (see Florida vs. Arkansas, 2009). Just realize this is all part of the machine. Do your part and everything will work itself out. It is what it is. There is no "I" in "Best football conference on the planet every year."
#9 - If, after a touchdown, a defender rips off the scoring player's helmet, the ref is to look in the helmet. If the offensive player's head is still in the detached helmet, then it is a flag. Player ejection is left up to the discretion of the ref. If the offensive player's head is still attached on his shoulders then no flag. (No explanation was given why there were 9 points in their "8 Essentials." When I asked a fellow referee, he just said, "It's the SEC, they can do whatever they want.")
Chance Parlay went on to explain that nothing in his life is more rewarding than knowing he has the ability to assist the SEC win the national championship every year.
Day 5: A Few Words From Up Top
Today we got to hear from Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. He gave us an inspiring motivational talk. Here are few key points from what he said.
[Paraphrasing his four-hour keynote address.]
The fact that the SEC refs constantly do what it takes to keep the SEC on top nationally is an indicator of the character and integrity of everyone involved. The SEC would not be the greatest conference in college football if it were not for the people in this room.
He went on to thank us all for having, what he called "a deep, burning, incessant, need to live vicariously through these great athletes." A need so strong that it would drive us to referee these games while knowing that we will be hated by everyone, respected by no one, and generally thought of as the absolute most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the galaxy.
He concluded by quoting legendary coach, Bear Bryant, when he said, "Roll Tide!"
All in all, it was a great experience getting to go through the very same motions that these men go through while we all pretended to actually be football officials. My fantasy camp was over just as it was starting to be amazing, and I left jealous, knowing that the others in the room would get to continue "pretending" all during the fall and beyond -- as they cashed their checks from the SEC!
From coach to comedian: Marty Simpson is a former Academic All-Conference player for USC who scored the Gamecocks' first 6 points in the SEC. During 8 years as a high school varsity coach, Simpson led his team to the state finals. He's now a stand-up comedian.
See Marty perform stand-up comedy in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 22 at New Kirk Presbyterian Church.
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