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The sun is favoring northern Indiana on Friday afternoon as Parry eases onto I-94 for the 167-mile drive to Champaign, where he will observe Marchman and his crew on Saturday. The day before, he had spoken by phone with Jackson, who told Parry that he erroneously saw the interference on the Michigan conversion attempt as an unintentional entanglement. "I'd give anything to have a second chance on that play," Jackson told him.
Moments before beginning the drive to Champaign, Parry also spoke by phone with Nealon. "We'll give it the very best we have," said Nealon, referring to the Northwestern-Wisconsin game that he and his crew would work the next day. As it turned out, the officiating was not a factor in the Wildcats' 44-34 win.
Parry defends the quality of officiating, saying that television magnifies their errors. Instant replay is a particular curse. Parry thinks officiating is better than ever for a number of reasons. Videotape is clearer and easier to use than film for reviewing games, officials are fitter and high school officiating, the training ground for future college officials, has improved.
On the other hand, players are bigger, faster and stronger, and coaches are smarter. As a result, officials are faced with more high-speed, bang-bang plays and more complex formations. Yet Parry maintains that on an average Saturday in five Big Ten games, 725 of 750 plays are called perfectly, perhaps 10 to 15 result in calls that could have been judged either way and the remaining 10 or so produce incorrect calls. Parry thinks the rules on holding are a particular headache for officials—so much so that the infraction routinely is not called. "For us to call it," he says, "it should be a strong grab at the point of attack that has a direct effect on the play." No other judgment call leads to as many disputes.
And when disputes occur, says Parry, a good official "soothes rather than incites. He needs to be a great people-handler. Kill 'em with kindness. Firm but fair."
In Champaign, Illinois coach John Mackovic—who officiated Kentucky high school games during his Army days at Fort Knox—defends today's officials. "The tape shows that these officials call almost the whole game right. The problem is we are looking for perfection."
On Friday evening, the officials gather to look at more tape, and Marchman says, "Name any other vocation in which people are correct 97% of the time. And remember this is an avocation."
Indeed, the inevitable conclusion is that officiating is excellent, even bordering on extraordinary. When Michigan coach Gary Moeller says, "Something has to be done," as he did after the Michigan State game, he's wrong. What would Moeller and other critics suggest be done in the quest for perfection? Pay the officials more? Theirs is a labor of love, not profit. Nobody suggests that potentially outstanding officials are sitting at home waiting for the pay to go up. Parry has more than 1,000 applications on file.
Should there be more than seven officials? On nearly every play, they have all the action covered. Better training? Officials are constantly attending clinics and meetings, reading and honing their skills in fall and spring scrimmages. Nor do they lack experience. The average Big Ten official has been calling games at some level for more than 22 years.
Before the game, back judge Jim Sherlock checks the air pressure in the six game balls provided by Illinois and the eight provided by Michigan State. One of the State balls (each team goes on offense with one of its own) is inflated only to eight pounds; it must be between 11 and 13. He returns it. Parry gives the guys a pep talk. "Let's look efficient even if we're screwing up," he says. "Sell the call. Let's look like we came here to work."