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Road to refs' settlement strikes nerve with Wyant

FRED WYANT was more than a standout quarterback for WVU - a captain, in fact - back in 1955.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Wyant was Ed Hochuli. He was Mike Carey.

He was one of the most recognizable figures in the NFL as a lead official. In all, he spent 27 years in the league.

Of late, though, Wyant has been disgusted by the events surrounding the NFL and its lockout of officials.

He wasn't disgusted by the lockout, which was mercifully settled late Wednesday night. He wasn't disgusted by the replacement refs, or even the missed calls - right down to the controversial game-ending Packers-Seahawks play that ESPN has seared into our brains.

What ticked Wyant off was the firestorm of criticism before the settlement by announcers and analysts like Mike Tirico, Trent Dilfer and Jon Gruden. Especially Gruden, who said, "There's just too much at stake. Officials shouldn't be deciding the outcome of this game."

"I just couldn't watch the announcers," Wyant, now 78, said. "What was Gruden as a coach, 50-50? He can't be serious when he says one play decides the outcome of a game. Green Bay's quarterback was sacked eight times in the first half. I don't think I've ever seen that many in one half. But the talk was of the officials. No one said anything about that offensive line."

Gruden, for the record, was 57-55 at Tampa Bay and 95-81 overall. But one can understand Wyant's point.

Now? Wyant is pleased the strife is past, but the path to the settlement struck a nerve.

"It takes five years for someone to become an official," he said. "It takes five years to become comfortable [in the NFL] and to have those [in the NFL] feel comfortable with you.

"The game is so fast, the rules have to be interpreted so fast, I thought [the replacement officials] weren't bad. Let's face it, they were in college Division III. At those places you play hard, but you play more for fun.

"I mean, they were only at this for three weeks. If [Division II West Virginia] Wesleyan plays at Seton Hill, there might be 100 people there. Then you take those officials to Monday Night Football?"

Wyant earned the right to blow the whistle on the proceedings. After starring at WVU, he officiated high school, West Virginia Conference, then major-college football. (He remembers his first game of the latter category, Furman vs. Presbyterian.) He worked three different major-college conferences and high school football - at the same time for a bit. Then, eight years in, he grabbed an opportunity to jump to the NFL.

"We had an association then, not a union," Wyant said.

The Weston native made around $3,000 a game in 1993, his last season. With the new contract, officials will begin making an average of $173,000 per season starting in 2013. Still, Wyant said, no one, especially the analysts, will be happy.

"The guys who were out there weren't doing bad," Wyant said of the replacements. "They made mistakes, but you need to get together when you have a rule book like that. The NFL can change rules in the middle of the season.

"What people don't understand is what the rule says and how the league wants it interpreted can be two different things. Yet [announcers] are getting upset and sitting there reading the rule.

"What they ought to do to get perfection is have instant replay on every single play. Absurd? Yes it is. It would take two days to finish a game. But that's what they should do if they're so hell-bent that everything's gotta be perfect."

Wyant said the entire setup was absurd.

"I would hope they took the best officials from that division," he said. "But we don't know how many were line judges and made into back judges. It was a near impossibility.

"I remember I'd go through five possible scenarios in my head per play. Physically I'd be OK after, but mentally I'd be whipped. I'm telling you, it takes five years."

Wyant turned it around.

"I've been thinking about this and if they took the NFL officials and threw them into Division III, I'll bet they'd have the same kind of problems. They might not know the rules. They might over-officiate. And one thing's for sure: You can't see everything."

Thankfully, though, the lockout is over. Wyant, who lives in Star City, can stop appearing on radio talk shows over the topic. He can resume playing slo-pitch softball. (At 78, he pitched 21 innings last Thursday.)

Also, Wyant can stop hearing the announcers' chirping.

"I remember when I'd officiate Pittsburgh Steelers games," Wyant said. "I was friends with [ex-WVU and Steelers announcer] Jack Fleming. After the games, he'd always come down to see me. He'd always ask me about calls and I'd always explain them to him. Then he'd tell me what he thought.

"One day, I finally said, 'Jack, why do you always ask me if you always have the answer?' He always wanted to tell me what he thought."

And not much has changed.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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