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Unhappy Mike Leach says officials should be paid more and graded

Washington State head coach Mike Leach, center, has a plan that would pay officials more money but make them more accountable. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)
Washington State head coach Mike Leach, center, has a plan that would pay officials more money but make them more accountable. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The easiest way to get a “no comment” from Washington State football coach Mike Leach is to ask him what he thought of the officiating in a given Cougars game.

It turns out $10,000 fines, like the one the Big 12 gave Leach in 2007 after the coach called the officiating in his Texas Tech team’s loss to Texas a “complete travesty,” have a way of making someone keep his or her trap shut.

But Leach seemed particularly perturbed with the officiating in WSU’s 31-28 loss to Boise State last weekend. Though he stopped himself after the game and during his weekly Monday press conference from going into specifics, we can make some reasonable guesses about the plays that drew his ire.

Gabe Marks appeared to get a first down on the game’s penultimate play. Both Leach and quarterback Luke Falk later said that they assumed Marks had gotten a first down and stopped the clock, which is why they allowed the clock to run.

While it’s true that the coaches should have been looking at the clock – or the official who signals for a first down – to see whether or not a timeout was needed, a better spot would have allowed the Cougars to spike the ball, run a play and attempt a field goal, rather than throw an unlikely Hail Mary pass.

There were some weird misfires by the officiating staff, such as originally ruling that Tavares Martin was down at the one-yard line even though the receiver clearly rolled over a BSU player into the end zone. And a couple questionable holding calls that Leach actually refused to blame the officials for, saying that his inside receivers were scared of linebacker Tanner Vallejo, causing their technique to break down.

Leach has long felt beleaguered by bad officiating – a non-called pass interference at the end of the 2014 Oregon game and a touchdown called short that same year against California spring to mind. On Monday, he revealed his plan for the NCAA to do something about it.

“I think there needs to be a grading process, which everyone will tell you that there is,” Leach said. “I think that along with that, an education process. I think that we ought to double their pay so that they make twice as much and it’s a desirable position to have and that you aspire to beyond telling your friends at the country club.”

While there is a farm system in the sense that officials from lower conferences try to work their way into the higher-paying Power Five conferences, Leach suggested establishing a system of relegation where the worst graded officials every year would be sent down in exchange for the best officials from the lower conferences.

Leach’s point about officiating pay is particularly salient. College officiating is a part-time job, meaning officials can only spend so much time in the offseason learning rules and sharpening their skills at various clinics.

Officials are often responsible for paying for their own lodging and travel, creating a disincentive for them to work games far from home. Leach suggested that creates bias.

“There’s enough money that flies around college football you should be able to find guys with different states from no attachment to the area and stuff like that,” Leach said. “West coast guys should be working on the east coast and vice versa as far as I’m concerned.”

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