Not your average call
A day in the office is a day on the field for Mike McCabe.
April 29, 2015
In the briefcase-carrying, Bluetooth-wearing, Starbucks-drinking, dog-eat-dog work world, there isn’t whole lot of excitement. Every day is just filled with the usual tasks of attending meetings, filling out paperwork and sitting at the computer all day until the time finally comes to go home.
Mike McCabe, however, does not have to worry about a lack of day-to-day excitement. The father of Carlie (‘15) and Delaney (‘17) McCabe, Mike works in a setting where going through the motions is unacceptable — unless, of course, he is motioning for a penalty on the defense.
“For the past 12 years, I have been a field judge in the Pac-12,” Mike said. “My position is situated about 20 yards deep in the defensive backfield, near the sideline. My typical game responsibilities would include pass-interference penalties, holding calls on the edge on sweep plays, cleaning up plays into the side zone and always getting to the goal line before the runner crosses with the ball to rule on a touchdown. I am also situated under the goal post to rule on field goals and extra points.”
After over a decade of working by the sidelines, Mike is ready to enter deeper into the field. He plans to fill in the new position of ‘center judge’, as college football adds an eighth official to the field for 2015.
“I will now be in the middle of the field on the offensive backfield and my duties will include ruling on hits to the quarterback, watching the tackles for suspect blocks and spotting the ball each play,” he said.
While every Saturday is now a suit-up day for Mike, his officiating career was not always this glorious. He started with officiating Pop Warner and local high school games. It was not until the turn of the century that Mike’s career really shot off.
“In 2000 I was accepted into the Big Sky Conference, the Mountain West Conference a year later, and then finally, in 2004, I was offered a position in the Pac-10 — now Pac-12, he said. “Additionally, I worked in the Arena Football League for 10 years, NFL Europe for three seasons and the XFL for one year while working college football at the same time.”
When people first find out about Mike’s job, they are often left wide-eyed and star-struck. Just about every college football fan wonders what goes on in the mind of an official, and Mike is always happy to share his insights.
“It usually opens up a lot of discussion, as most people tend to like college football and sports in general,” he said. “Our fraternity of football officials is small, and I typically know guys at most of the levels from high school to college to NFL.”
With the college football season being a strenuous time for Mike, he relies a lot on the support of his family members who are there for him at the end of games with either a hug or a phone call.
“The fall tends to be a very busy and stressful time for about three-and-a-half months,” Mike said. “I am gone almost every weekend in the fall and busy during the week preparing for the next weekend’s games. My family is very supportive of what I do and I believe they enjoy taking in a game or two during the season. I try to take each one of my daughters to one away game each year to experience the feel of Pac-12 stadium and campus. With all of today’s games on TV, they usually watch my games and typically question something I did during the game — not much slips past them.”
While the job of a referee may seem like a simple show up, throw on the pinstripes and a whistle and head on to the field kind of routine, it is not the case. Mike’s preparation starts Friday, a day prior to game day, when crew meetings are held to discus film breakdown, network coverage and replay situations. The next morning, Mike and his crew meet together for breakfast and then head to the stadium where the fun begins.
“Once at the stadium, we walk the field to get a feel for anything that is unusual or new — overhead cameras, TV’s that are too close to the field, etc.,” Mike said. “We then meet with the TV producer, game management, security, game timers, ball boys, head coaches and trainers. After all that, it is time to get dressed and get on the field. Sometimes we get a chance to pump up the crew with a little pre-game music. I usually roll with a little Metallica or House of Pain to get the guys ready. We get the captains and teams to the field to the roar of 60,000 plus people and we kickoff.”
Mike’s experiences exceed the common perception of a referee’s job as just running around and making calls. However, Mike’s commitment to officiating also comes with the perk of being in the midst of climatic, high-tension games.
Some of the highlights of his career include officating at the “Bush Push” (USC versus Notre Dame) and the Reggie Bush all-purpose yards record game (USC versus Fresno State) in 2005, the Sugar Bowl (Georgia versus West Virginia) in 2006, the Fiesta Bowl (Oklahoma versus Connecticut) in 2011, the Pac-12 Championship game (Stanford versus UCLA) and the Stanford-versus-Notre-Dame overtime game in 2012, and the UCLA-USC rivalry games in 2006, 2012 and 2014.
“I would say that the best part of [my] job is being on the field during a college football game while enjoying the surrounding atmosphere and the ultimate challenge of doing your job so that the officiating is not the lead topic of discussion,” Mike said. “I would also say that my job has taken me to many different cities over the years that I would not have probably traveled to on my own. Enjoying the local flavor of different cities and the people in those respective towns has been a ton of fun and a blessing.”
Not only does Mike make the calls in the football games, but he also makes the calls in his own life. Instead of settling for the daily routine of office burdens, Mike works on his playground.