Edition: April 2006 - Vol 14 Number 04
There are 100,000 screaming fans creating a decibel reading that could give a fighter jet a run for its money. On the field, two top 25 college football teams are battling it out. Thatís 22 of some of the best players in the country competing on the field at the same time, delivering dizzying hits, lightning flash runs and a highly entertaining game to the millions at home watching. With so much on the line, keeping the game fair comes down to a handful of officials.
Welcome to Mike McCabeís world. A rep for MedTech during the week (he was Co-Rep of the Year in 2005), McCabe dons the stripes of an officialís uniform on the weekends. In the fall, heís a PAC-10 official, and this past January he worked the Nokia Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. He stays busy in the college football offseason, working both Arena football and NFL Europe games.
Repertoire: How did you get started in the medical distribution field?
Mike McCabe: When I was going to Arizona State, my future wife graduated a semester ahead of me, and she went to PSS. Right out of college she got this opportunity to work for PSS, and the medical industry intrigued me. So when she started on it, I followed what she was doing. By the time I graduated, I was targeting the medical industry. Through her contacts, she was keeping her eyes and ears open something, and I got an opportunity with MedTech. A gentleman by the name of Tom Drexler just had left the Southern California area to take an opportunity in Phoenix, so that left an opening for me. I sat down with Bill Sparks, and he took a chance on a young kid right out of college. And since 1991, I have been with MedTech.
Rep: How did you get involved in officiating?
McCabe: In 1991, I started working Pop Warner games on the weekend just to pick up some extra money. I would work three games on a Saturday and then it just blossomed from there. I started working high school games, and then on to junior college games, then I got into the Big Sky Conference. That was in 1998. I worked three years in the Big Sky Conference before I got into the Mountain West Conference in 2002. I got into the PAC-10 in 2003, a year later. Every level is kind of a stepping-stone. All of this was kind of initiated by my father.
Rep: Was your father an official?
McCabe: He was an NFL replay official. He did college officiating for 25 to 30 years, then (the NFL) asked him to come and be an instant replay official. He did that for the last five to six years. So it runs in the family a bit too. I canít say that I wasnít encouraged or exposed to this without being around it all of my life, since my dad worked football. He did basketball too, and Iíve never had an interest to do basketball. Football was something that always interested me.
Rep: What kind of training is involved to be an official?
McCabe: More than anything, itís on-field training, getting thrown into the fire. There are rules we have to study and tests that we have to take every year. Itís not really considered a certification process, but in a sense it is, because when you get to the higher levels, the Division I levels, you have to take a test every year, and itís a pretty hefty test. Youíve got about an hour to take this test on all of the rules-related things that happen on the field. Obviously, you have to get a passing score. Otherwise they take games away from you. Thereís a heavy emphasis now on physical shape, although itís unwritten. Theyíre pressing guys to be in better physical shape and appearance. Thatís what the NFL certainly wants, and itís trickling down into the college level too.
Rep: What are the most exciting games that youíve officiated?
McCabe: This year certainly ranked up there at the top. My first major college game that I ever did was in the Mountain West. The opening game was Colorado vs. Colorado State. They played in Denver. It was the season opener, Aug. 31. The place was packed, 75,000 people, it turned out to be a great game, CSU won the game. At that point I was like Ďwow, I really hit the higher levels of football,í when you work a game with a crowd like that. But I would have to say that the most exciting game that Iíve ever worked, hands down, is the USC-Notre Dame game this past year. It was just surreal. As an official, you just donít get into the score or the game like you would as a fan, but it was just hard not to, during the timeouts and dead ball periods, not to look around the stadium and take in the excitement of the experience. It was such a back-and-forth game, and there was so much hype on the game. Even as an official, your concentration level is so high, you want to do well with so many people watching. You want to do your best. It was back and forth, living up to the hype, so it was the most incredible game that Iíve ever worked. Most of the time, halfway through the third quarter, if you asked me who was winning the game, I probably couldnít even tell you, because weíre so focused on what weíre doing. But this was a different feel. The energy level at that game was something I havenít felt before. Iíve worked Arena games that get real loud, and even in NFL Europe, but this game ranks above all of that.
Rep: When people find out that you officiate, what kind of response do you get?
McCabe: Most people are taken back by it, in a good way. It leads to a lot of discussions about football. People like to ask me about the game itself and rule questions. It just opens up a lot of doors for me. In a positive way.
Rep: How often do you officiate?
McCabe: Iím currently doing Arena football. Iíve been (officiating) almost 15 years now. That will hopefully launch me into the NFL. The Arena football is part of the NFL training program. They put their pool of candidates into Arena football and they also send them over to NFL Europe football as well. They send you over there for a week, and then you work two games on each weekend. Right now Iím involved in all of that.
Rep: When would you become an NFL official?
McCabe: They typically hire between the ages of 38 and 45. Sometimes Iíve seen guys get hired younger than 38 or over 45. Iím right in the thick of it.
For me, I probably need to go to NFL Europe a couple more times to get a little more exposure to the NFL style, the rules and the mechanics. For me, it could be one to three years away, if it happens at all.
Rep: Do they have a grading scale for evaluation? How are officials graded?
McCabe: At the Division I levels and above, including Arena football, the scrutinization has become more intense over the years. Every game we work we get graded. Calls that we make or do not make are graded. For instance if I throw a flag on a hold, itís either going to be a correct call, an incorrect call or maybe a marginal call. Or if I didnít throw the flag and there was a hold Iíll get a whatís called a no-call. The grading scale starts at 100 percent. What theyíre encouraging is that you donít throw more flags, but make more quality calls. So if I throw the flag and itís not a hold, then I get a minus four. If itís a marginal hold, like Ďhey, we donít want you to call this, but the guy may have pulled a jersey a little bit,í then they may give you a minus two. So at the end of the day, you get a graded report with a 94, 96 or a 100, something like that. They take those scores at the end of the season, and give you an average. Typically the top-rated guys will get the bowl assignments, or playoff assignments if itís Arena football.