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Originally published Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 8:02 PM

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Bud Withers

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott sees "significant opportunity for improvement" of conference's football officiating

Restructuring of Pac-10 football officiating just another aggressive move by always-busy conference commissioner Larry Scott.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Little did we know that back on Oct. 21, when Larry Scott stepped to a podium at a San Francisco hotel to announce divisional alignments and revenue-sharing in the new Pac-12 Conference, the league commissioner had other irons in the fire.

About that time, Scott — otherwise known as He Who Would Move Mountains — was designating Mike Pereira to do a four-month study of Pac-10 football officials, everything from training to general league practices. Pereira is a former vice president of officiating for the NFL, and you knew him last season as a Fox TV analyst who would offer instant opinions on replay decisions about to come down.

"We felt that was a real coup," Scott told me the other day, referring to Pereira. "Like a lot of things (in the Pac-10), there had been a traditional approach that's served the conference well. But everyone deserved to get a fresh look from a highly credible and objective perspective."

You might have noticed that Scott doesn't do tradition well, at least as we've come to know it in the Pac-10. So Scott says Pereira "for the next year at a minimum, being very proactive and aggressive," will coordinate the league's officiating program. Later this year, the conference will name a new coordinator.

In an oddly constructed news release detailing the restructuring last week, the league announced — in the first sentence — that Dave Cutaia had requested to step down from his coordinator role, which he had held three years. Before that, Cutaia was an official for 24 years.

"The press release pretty much speaks for itself," Cutaia said Tuesday from his Northern California home. As for the quality of the officiating program during his time as coordinator, he said tersely, "I thought it was improving."

Of course, nothing is as convenient a whipping boy as officiating. Your school, your conference, is always getting the worst of it.

"It's kind of a running joke among commissioners," Scott said. "We've all got the worst officiating program in the country, to our fans."

Scott heard the same thing from Mike Slive, commissioner of the SEC, from Jim Delany of the Big Ten, from John Swofford of the ACC. They all preside over the worst.

In this case, Pac-10 fans might be right.

OK, that's unfair. It's just that some of the Pac-10 gaffes of recent years were so egregious, they made national punch lines of the league's officiating. To wit:

• The Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick fiasco of 2006, which resulted in suspensions for both the field and replay crews.

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• Yvenson Bernard's goal-line lunge at Oregon State against Washington in 2007, when somnolent officials ruled a fumble, allowing the Huskies a long return and a chance to pull out a game in a highly charged atmosphere in which three players had already been ejected.

• The game-changing excessive-celebration call on Washington's Jake Locker in 2008 against Brigham Young.

Scott says there was no tipping point toward the restructure. But his words make it clear he thinks there was a need for change.

"Bottom line, while our program was strong in many respects," he says, "there's a significant opportunity for improvement."

Scott says there will be a heavy influence on using NFL-level training and technology, and policies developed for accountability and response to controversy. He talks of wanting a "crispness" on the field.

He even hinted at taking a look at the league's basketball officiating. But first things first; he's hip-deep in "very intense discussions" for the Pac-12's TV contracts starting in 2012-13, including some with "potential new partners." Those negotiations might be resolved by the summer.

You get the idea: This wouldn't be a good time to get in Larry Scott's way.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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