The Charmed Life of an Intramural Referee

They bask in the sun when it is out, as it is today, a crisp 73 degrees with clear skies. Days like this make it easier for them to endure the rain when it comes—or endure you if you complain to them, ignorant of the rules. While the NFL’s replacement referees illustrate the lowest and darkest depths of officiating, Villanova’s intramural flag football refs enjoy the climate and the company of friends as they make money for tuition or books or beer, whatever it is we college kids spend our money on.

Indeed, the worst criticism that the refs of Austin Field on Thursday, Sept. 20 face is the teasing of friends passing by on their way to or from Dougherty Hall.

“I don’t know about that one,” yells one catcaller from the path in front of Austin Hall.

“What game you watching?” The hecklers keep coming.

Senior Geoff Brovich, who serves as line judge for the first game of the shift, understands the extra pressure that comes with the spotlight on Austin. Before the contest between the Mamba’s [sic] and Cantouchiss, he intimates how, from the traffic on Lancaster to the vacant stares of the cars parked on Main Lot to the passersby to the dead resting in the graveyard, refs are never free from a critical eye over here.

And the players. Oh, the players—always the refs’ harshest critics.

“They don’t filter themselves,” says Joe Brady, a sophomore and head referee for the first game. “There are few plays they actually care about.”

In other words, players complain because it is in their nature, not because of a strong knowledge of the rules.

“They do not understand the line of scrimmage,” Brovich says with an exasperated laugh to today’s on-site supervisor Christine Bosco (as in the chocolate syrup) and scorekeeper Casey Butler (as in the annex, she says, not to be outdone), both juniors.

Nearly all players have some appreciation for football. The problem is, flag football is to football what softball is to cricket. The official rules given by the intramural department—88 bullet points in all, under 40 categories—explain the differences in perfect detail. This is, of course, required reading for the refs, and reinforced via PowerPoint presentation at the preseason Intramural Flag Football Officiating Clinic.

The slideshow lasts 50 minutes, and now the screen reads, with ominous capitalization, “RULES TEST.” The officials will be shown a video, and they will have to identify each rule that is broken in it.

But this is the fun interlude portion of the evening. The internet-famous Marshawn Lynch “Beast Mode” video plays on the next slide. Both teams in the video have 11 players (seven is the intramural maximum), offensive linemen touch defensive linemen (no blocking allowed), Lynch stiff-arms defenders (that’s offensive obstruction) and leaps into the endzone (no diving except to catch a pass)—these are just a few of the many violations on the play.

“Oh,” someone in the crowd says, “and he didn’t check in with his wildcard.”

More, drier rule quizzes are given as hyper-specific scenarios, and then the crowd makes for the Pavilion to break into stations, one for each position: head judge (referee), line judge, and back judge.

“When did intramural get so serious?” one official says on the walk.

According to the man in charge of all officials, new Intramural Intern Colin Allison, this is the first year the clinic has consisted of anything more than a supervisor reading the rule sheet. Allison just graduated from Rutgers last spring, where he worked in the recreation department. In high school he officiated AAU basketball games, and he got his start officiating basketball for third- and fourth-graders when he was 12 years old. Right now he desires nothing greater than to work in a university recreation or athletic department for the foreseeable future, so when he calls on refs during the duller parts of the clinic to demonstrate their knowledge of the rules, it is not out of cruelty but the drive to make his personal passion the best it can possibly be.

That process starts with the referees themselves, and Allison says the department was able to be very selective about who could officiate.

“I think we hired a group of 50 officials this year,” he says. “50 total—30 new people. I’m still getting people emailing me asking for jobs. So I think I’m up to at least 110 [applications].”

As to why the job is so popular, that’s easy.

“They [applicants] think it’s a hell of a lot better than sitting in an office, filing paperwork,” Allison says. “You get to be outside, you get to be around sports. A lot of them—some sophomores who applied this year—they said they had so much fun and they saw how much of a great time the refs and the supervisors had that they wanted to be a part of the program.”

In today’s game between the Mamba’s [sic] and Cantouchiss, players are breaking the same rules as Marshawn Lynch and his teammates. RED’s offensive lineman extends his hands to block: a flag, then some chatter. Green’s star player, who was allegedly recruited to the football team but quit after a week, dives into the endzone: a flag, then some chatter, then a score anyway on the next play. And twice during today’s shift a player goes to check in without a wildcard, the first in an attempt to play for a team to which he did not belong.

“You’re not allowed to play without a wildcard,” Butler says to the second when he tries to check in for the game.

“Are you serious?”

“Every game, every shift,” Butler says as the player goes to his bag to get his card. “It’s like, ‘Do I still need a wildcard?’ Yes!”

Bosco and Butler’s job is to comment on the games, players and referees from the comfort and shade of their work station: a silver-and-blue University club car parked about 10 yards from the field, which is marked blue and worn brown by the hundreds of feet that played before. Sometimes they are needed to back up the crew in the event of a conflict. But idle chatter is the worst the refs will get today, and they say that’s an average level of player unhappiness. One team will not show for the next game, and so the crew will hang out and talk with each other, often about sports (I hear that green’s star player is far from the first to quit a team after a week; some kids just want the team apparel)—just like dozens of other student groups around campus.

“Get some money, get some sun. It’s a nice gig,” Bosco says.

By Marciano Lopez

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