The Big 12 is adding an 8th official to their regular crews for the 2013 season. The experiment will be monitored closely by other major conferences to decide if this becomes the new college football standard. The additional official, who will line up behind the offensive backfield (facing the referee on the other side of the LOS) will have implications for the play on the field.
But what are they?
First, and perhaps most obviously, a potential for faster play.
The additional official is being specifically tasked with spotting the ball for the offense. That task was previously delegated to the umpire, but because of his other duties (counting players, calling holding, evaluating illegal formations), and because coaches in several leagues have complained about "slow umpires", who are either too deliberate or athletically incapable of keeping up with the faster pace of no-huddle, hurry-up offenses, the league wanted to create an official whose primary responsibility is spotting the ball in time with offensive progress. Fat guys need not apply.
This is a major victory for hurry-up offenses. And it stands to reason that the teams proven best at running that system (OU, OSU, Baylor, WVU), and can attack the defense with personnel that don't require offensive substitutions (offensive substitutions allow defensive substitutions), stand to benefit most. Texas, a late adopter, may not be able to exploit any potential advantage as seamlessly.
Of course, the greatest way to guarantee good offense is to run effective plays, no matter the pace.
But might there be an offensive downside to the extra official that pundits aren't seeing?
In my view, yes. Depending on how that extra official views their role post-snap and the league's disposition towards calling holding.
The extra official will be lined up with a deep set QB's view of the football field. And even if their primary tasking is to act as a ball-spotting monkey, they'll see offensive line play from a new perspective. In fact, after the snap, there's not much else for them to do but that. Holding calls and personal fouls (hands to the face, lateral cut blocking, leg whips), which Big 12 officials more or less ignored beginning in the 2008 season, and have drifted in and out of enforcement from season to season in the five years since, have the potential to spike considerably if these extra officials decide to meaningfully participate in the game after the snap. And they'll be afforded a pass rusher-facing perspective that will make these calls readily available.
Spread offenses are all built on disallowing inside pressure in the passing game and running games predicated on getting across play side defenders with combo blocks. Holding is a helpful tool towards those ends.
On the defensive side of the ball, if pace does indeed accelerate, offering defenses little respite, defensive coordinators who rely on "the perfect call" and multiple personnel packages from play-to-play to counteract the offensive coordinator's calls, at the expense of teaching broad principles in flexible defenses based on recognition, will find themselves in a deeper hole.
It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.