National championships in four consecutive seasons has been a boon for the SEC, but the league still has had some notable absences from the title game in recent years - its officials.
In an ideal world, the NCAA would more evenly distribute championship game assignments between the top officials. But officiating crews in bowl games are required to be from a neutral league
"It's kind of held them back from doing a championship game," said David Parry, the NCAA's national coordinator of officials. "They're getting to work a good bowl, though. The Rose Bowl isn't too shabby."
An all-star crew of Big Ten officials will work the BCS championship game this season, while top crews from the Pac-10 (Fiesta Bowl), Big 12 (Orange Bowl) and ACC (Sugar Bowl) will work the remaining BCS games.
Bowl games are as much a reward for top officials as they are for top teams. Individual officials from each conference are graded throughout the season, with the officials receiving top grades this season and through their careers receiving more high-profile bowl assignments. Officials also are judged on their experience in pressure situations in nationally prominent games.
"Bowl officials will have a history of good work over several years," Parry said.
The names of individual officials are not released until the day of each game.
Important to remember is that the officials in bowl games are not necessarily the best officiating crews. Conferences grade referees, umpires, line judges, head linesmen, line judges, field judges, side judges and back judges individually rather than as a unit. "All-star crews," as Parry has called them, are assembled, then assigned to bowl games to ensure neutral crews.
This season, the ACC, Big Ten Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC have the most assignments, at four each. The Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West and WAC have three each, and the Sun Belt and MAC have two each.
The Big East is the only Big Six conference that will not have a crew in a BCS game, and the most high-profile assignments for a non-Big Six league belong to Conference USA, which will supply officials for the Cotton and Alamo bowls.
Conference realignment also adds a wrinkle to the crews. The MAACO Las Vegas Bowl will have Pac-10 officials, though bowl participant Utah joins the Pac-10 next season. Fresno State will have Mountain West officials in the Humanitarian Bowl, and the Bulldogs are joining the MWC in 2012.
Besides the reward aspect for bowl officials, bowls now can have an impact on officiating for the next season. Last season, Parry said College Football Officiating, LLC, conducted its most in-depth examination of bowl officials. For the first time, all coaches were asked to submit reviews of officiating in their bowl games; that was in addition to reviews by a panel of conference directors of officiating.
Of 102 reports, Parry said all but four were "positive and upbeat."
In addition, about 150 calls from bowl games - both correct and incorrect calls - are compiled for a national training video distributed to college football officials.
Who's working where?
Here's a breakdown of the officiating crews for the 35 bowls.