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ESPN’s resident college football rules expert – and former cop – lays down the law on disputed calls

During the next three weeks, college football fans will likely see a lot of Dave Cutaia, ESPN’s college football rules expert (@CFBRulesExpert) since 2012. He will appear on their screens to explain a controversial officials’ call from any of the 33 (of 35) bowl games the networks will televise beginning this Saturday through the Vizio BCS National Championship on Jan. 6.

Cutaia draws on his decades of knowledge as both an active referee in the Arena Football League and internationally, and the more than 23 years he served officiating in the former Pac-10, and as the conference’s Coordinator of Officials from 2007-2011. He officiated his first game in 1968. He tells Front Row what his ESPN job entails (see an example in the video above).

How did this role come about for you?
I was approached by Ed Placey [ESPN senior coordinating producer] with whom I worked during my time as the Pac-10 Coordinator. Ed has always had the desire to “get it right” especially in the area of rules and officiating.

How do you keep up on playing rules?
I still work some small college and high school games, and am constantly studying the rules and reviewing video. I am in regular contact with Rogers Redding, who is the National Coordinator of Football Officials and the NCAA Football Rules Editor. I review all of the officiating materials which all college officials subscribe to.

What are game days like for you?
I sit in a studio with eight TV monitors and replay equipment which allows us [producers and talent] to go review plays. We monitor games on the ESPN networks and other networks. I go on air or on Twitter to explain calls, and also, I am on SportsCenter when the need arises.

The targeting rule has received a lot of buzz this season. Thoughts?
This type of hit needs to be eliminated from all levels of football. It is much too dangerous. There have been a high number of reversals of ejections by replay. This may be because the officials are being instructed to make the call when in doubt. Right now, replay has the ability to reverse the ejection but not the 15-yard penalty. The rule needs to be changed to allow the foul to be reversed as well.

Away from college football, what is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I thought I would be a meteorologist until I went on a police ride along with a friend who was a police officer. I retired from law enforcement after 35 years. From 1999-2007, I was chief of police for the City of Martinez, Calif.

An active referee with the Arena Football League, ESPN's college football rules expert Dave Cutaia (second from right) officiated China's first AFL game last month in Beijing. (Photo courtesy of Dave Cutaia)
An active referee with the Arena Football League, ESPN’s college football rules expert Dave Cutaia (second from right) officiated China’s first AFL game last month in Beijing. (Photo courtesy of Dave Cutaia)
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