December 28, 2011

Former Central player to officiate BCS title game

More news about: Central

For just a moment on the evening of Jan. 9, Brad Van Vark will allow himself to think about the fact that he's stepped onto the green, plastic grass field of the Louisiana Superdome for the BCS title game.

He'll temporarily succumb to the intoxicating atmosphere that accompanies having a spot perched on big-time college football's grandest stage as a back judge, part of an all-star Big 12 Conference officiating crew selected to work the Jan. 8 championship game in New Orleans. His eyes will scan the hyperventilating crowd of 72,000 and he'll think about being a former backup Central College quarterback from Pella, Iowa, about to spend the next 3.5 hours being seen by more television viewers than Oprah.

"I'll take a look around and think about how blessed I've been," Van Vark, a 1978 graduate, said. "And then get down to it."

To a dwindling handful of fans with a sane perspective, the breathlessly hyped LSU-Alabama matchup is just a game. Yet to Van Vark, it's even less than that. He can't afford to think of it in broader terms than the small sliver of field that is his responsibility to monitor.

"You are so focused on what you're trying to do and what you're trying to watch," he said. "After every play, I need to be able to tell myself what happened to the guys I was watching. Sometimes after the game someone will tell me about a great play and I don't have a clue. You're so focused on your area that you miss that fan's perspective."

But while he doesn't see the same game America sees on the TV screen, he's well aware of the big picture.

"We did the Iowa State-Oklahoma State game this year (a monumental ISU upset overtime victory at Ames, Nov. 18)," he said. "You're really focused on your job but you can feel what's going on around you. It's pretty cool."

It's the 12th straight year that Van Vark has been involved in a postseason game. He's worked three Big 12 title games and nine bowl games. And this will be his second national championship, having served as a side judge in Ohio State's overtime upset of Miami (Fla.) in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

"The first time was kind of a blur," he confesses about the 2003 game. "I'm way better equipped this time."

Van Vark said he's become more prepared to handle stressful situations.

"You kind of feel the excitement around you," he said. "You've got to try to stay under control. When everything comes apart at the seams, you need to be the one that remains calm."

Van Vark's love for officiating is inherited. His father, Leo, is a long-time high school official.

"He did it for 40 years," Van Vark said. "I'd tag along when I was growing up. I spent more time going to games at places like Mingo, Baxter or Lynnville-Sully than I ever did watching Pella (High School).

"He got me going when I was a senior at Central, officiating basketball and some low-level football."

A taste of life as an ordinary spectator removed any doubt he had about the profession.

"I remember after playing, my first time watching a game in the stands," he said. "What a helpless feeling. I didn't like it. I wanted to have a little control of what's going on."

Following graduation Van Vark spent seven seasons as an assistant football coach at Central for hall of fame coach Ron Schipper while also working at Pella Corp., where he now serves as senior sales manager, national accounts division. But then officiating took on a bigger role. He became an Iowa Conference official before gaining a spot in the Big 12.

The position has evolved in that time. Maintaining concentration throughout the game was always the biggest challenge in officiating and that's become even more daunting in recent years because of the development of frenetic no-huddle offenses.

"You just don't get an opportunity to settle in between plays," he said. "Now it's just go-go-go. After the game you're worn out as much mentally as physically."

Pass-happy offenses also change the activity level for a back judge, particularly in dealing with pass interference calls.

"Before you might get 20-30 plays with nothing and then boom," he said. "But now they can come on almost every play. You just have to stay ready for it."

That's one reason Van Vark spent a little time as an official in the high-octane Arena League as well.

"Having that experience helped me," he said. "It slows the outdoor game down a bit."

Like many fans, Van Vark is spending much of the postseason watching bowl games, but making mental notes rather than eating pizza.  He's trying to stay sharp after not working a game since late November.

"You're better when you work every week," he said. "You get in the flow. It hurts to have a month off. You try to watch film and we've got our weekly rules tests from the Big 12 office. I'll watch a lot of games through the holidays. It's a little different than baseball or basketball, where you work lots of games. There just aren't as many games in football and the only way to supplement that is to watch video of other games. You can get better by doing that."

He also draws on his experience at Central as a player and a coach.

"Playing the game helps you have an understanding of what the players are trying to accomplish," Van Vark said. "It helps you determine advantage/disadvantage. Coaching gives you an appreciation of that as well."

And that means more than just knowing the rules.

"It's like a police officer with guidelines," he said. "If you don't apply logic along with the rulebook, you're not going to be any good. The same thing applies when you're officiating. If you only look at the rulebook and not advantage/disadvantage, you're not going to help young men decide the game."

That's knowledge that would have been useful to Van Vark on the playing field more than 30 years ago.

"With all the things I know now, I wish I could go back and play," Van Vark laughs. "I'm way smarter than I was then."

But while Van Vark no longer tries to score touchdowns, he can still quietly experience the euphoria of reaching the end zone, albeit anonymously.

By the time the BCS trophy is hoisted skyward by one of the game's high-profile head coaches, either LSU's Les Miles or Alabama's Nick Saban, Van Vark will already be safely tucked away in the officials' locker room beneath the Louisiana Superdome. He'll have a DVD of the game in his hands before he leaves the stadium, with grades from his supervisors soon to follow. But he won't need an expert's evaluation or a cheering crowd for him to know how he feels.

"In any kind of business, you know when things have really clicked," he said.

That's among the things that continues fueling his desire to wear a striped shirt.

"It's an opportunity to go out there and perform at the highest level," he said. "If I do a good job, when we're finished, it's pretty satisfying."

And when he's not as sure, the DVD is especially helpful. Van Vark can accept being wrong, but wondering about a play can be draining.

"If you think, 'Wow, I wasn't in position on that play,' or 'I want to see that one again,' we can instantly get feedback," he said. "It helps you put things behind you and move forward. Some stuff stays with you a long time if you don't get to see the play again."

Which is why Van Vark doesn't fear instant replay.

"I like it because, A, it helps us get things right, which is all we're trying to do and B, it supports, for the most part, the fact that we do a pretty good job," he said. "The thing I don't like is that it disrupts the flow of the game."

Getting it right is what matters because Van Vark's bottom line is helping kids have a rewarding experience playing the game. That's something that drew Van Vark into officiating — and keeps him there.

"I can sincerely tell you that if I got fired tomorrow, the next day I'd go back to officiating high school games if they'd have me," he said. "I still enjoy it."

Sep. 30: All times Eastern
Final
Randolph-Macon 24, at Shenandoah 19
Box Score Photos
Final
at Washington and Lee 49, Emory and Henry 23
Box Score
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
Final
Massachusetts Maritime 30, at Fitchburg State 0
Box Score
Final
Becker 42, at Gallaudet 18
Box Score
0:13.2 4th
35 Merchant Marine
38 Hobart
Video Live Stats Audio
Final
RPI 51, at Rochester 13
Box Score
Final
Endicott 21, at MIT 9
Box Score
4th - 10:30
17 Juniata
52 Johns Hopkins
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Montclair State at William Paterson
Live Stats Audio
2nd - 02:54
6 Hamilton
14 Wesleyan
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
3rd - 05:57
7 Bates
6 Tufts
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Halftime
31 Wabash
14 Hiram
Video Live Stats
3rd - 06:44
28 Middlebury
0 Colby
Video Live Stats
Halftime
17 Amherst
3 Bowdoin
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Frostburg State at Kean
Video Live Stats
Start of 3rd
14 Kenyon
27 DePauw
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Ferrum at Greensboro
Video Preview Live Stats
1:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Methodist
Video Live Stats
HALF
19 FDU-Florham
14 Wilkes
Video Live Stats
Start of 3rd
7 Anna Maria
17 Castleton
Video Preview Live Stats Tickets
3rd - 14:54
11 Moravian
23 Ursinus
Video Preview Live Stats
HALF
38 Stevenson
0 Misericordia
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
Start of the 3rd Quarter
7 Springfield
21 St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
HALF
28 Thomas More
15 Westminster (Pa.)
Video Live Stats Audio
Start of 3rd
35 Alma
17 Kalamazoo
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
Halftime
10 Franklin and Marshall
10 Dickinson
Video Preview Live Stats
Start of 3rd
42 Wesley
9 Southern Virginia
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
3rd - 09:08
21 Adrian
14 Albion
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
3rd - 13:01
20 Husson
5 SUNY-Maritime
Video Live Stats
3rd - 08:38
24 Apprentice
0 Alfred State
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3rd - 03:06
6 TCNJ
24 Salisbury
Video Live Stats Audio
HALF
17 Buffalo State
14 St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Salve Regina at Curry
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Half
6 McDaniel
24 Gettysburg
Video Preview Preview Live Stats
HALF
21 Delaware Valley
0 Lebanon Valley
Video Live Stats
12:14 3rd
7 Ohio Wesleyan
14 Denison
Video Preview Live Stats
12:19 | 3rd
7 Utica
9 Ithaca
Live Stats
3rd - 05:42
35 Alfred
14 Morrisville State
Video Live Stats
End 2nd
29 Western New England
7 Nichols
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
King's at Albright
Video Live Stats
3rd - 13:56
0 Catholic
56 Guilford
Video Live Stats
3rd - 13:51
21 Muhlenberg
23 Susquehanna
Video Live Stats Audio
3rd - 11:39
14 Huntingdon
35 N.C. Wesleyan
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Minnesota-Morris at MacMurray
Start of 3rd
17 Birmingham-Southern
21 Chicago
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Westminster (Mo.) at Crown
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Oberlin at Allegheny
Video Live Stats Audio
Start of 1st
0 Mount Ida
0 Norwich
Video Live Stats
End of 2nd
24 Trinity (Conn.)
6 Williams
Video Preview Live Stats
2:08, 2nd
35 Baldwin Wallace
28 Marietta
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
3rd - 14:54
3 Muskingum
6 Heidelberg
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
Start of 3rd
14 Union
0 WPI
Video Live Stats
2nd - 01:15
16 Maine Maritime
29 Coast Guard
Video Preview Live Stats
End of 2nd
23 John Carroll
0 Wilmington
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd Quarter - :21
21 Mount Union
7 Ohio Northern
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
2nd - 00:30
27 Franklin
7 Manchester
Preview Live Stats
1:30 PM
Mount St. Joseph at Hanover
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Widener at Lycoming
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 00:58
32 Defiance
14 Earlham
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1st - 02:45
7 Concordia-Chicago
6 Trine
Video Live Stats Audio
4:20, 1st
6 Capital
7 Otterbein
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Plymouth State at Westfield State
Video Live Stats
2nd - 10:46
14 Wittenberg
0 Wooster
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2nd - 11:21
7 Anderson
20 Rose-Hulman
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2nd - 10:00
7 Hampden-Sydney
24 Bridgewater
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Waynesburg at Grove City
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Cortland at Hartwick
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Centre at Hendrix
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2nd - 08:15
20 Eureka
6 Greenville
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Northwestern (Minn.) at Iowa Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
2nd Qtr - 13:01 left
7 Concordia (Wis.)
0 Lakeland
Video Live Stats
2nd - 11:05
3 Rockford
20 Benedictine
Video Live Stats
2nd - 09:35
14 Aurora
0 Wisconsin Lutheran
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2:00 PM
Nebraska Wesleyan at Luther
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2nd - 12:40
14 Rhodes
7 Sewanee
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14:37 - 2nd
7 Lake Forest
28 St. Norbert
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Gustavus Adolphus
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2nd - 07:12
14 Hamline
10 Carleton
Video Live Stats Audio
14:50 2nd Qtr.
14 St. John's
7 Bethel
Video Live Stats Audio
Start of 2nd
3 UW-Whitewater
7 UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
2nd - 11:25
3 Buena Vista
7 Loras
Video Live Stats
2nd - 13:09
14 Sul Ross State
20 Hardin-Simmons
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Eau Claire
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lawrence
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Cornell at Monmouth
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 15:00
10 Wartburg
3 Coe
Video Live Stats
15:00 2nd Q
14 Dubuque
7 Central
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Illinois Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Augustana
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Macalester at Ripon
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Grinnell at Illinois College
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Howard Payne at Louisiana College
Audio
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at UW-La Crosse
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Belhaven
Video Live Stats
2nd - 14:43
0 Augsburg
13 St. Thomas
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Washington and Jefferson at Thiel
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Morthland
Video
3:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Martin Luther
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
Carthage at Carroll
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Oshkosh
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4:00 PM
Willamette at Puget Sound
Video Video Preview Live Stats Audio
4:00 PM
Whittier at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Pacific at Pacific Lutheran
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Live Stats
4:30 PM
Lewis and Clark at Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Framingham State at Mass-Dartmouth
Video Live Stats
5:00 PM
Averett at LaGrange
Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Whitworth at George Fox
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6:00 PM
Olivet at Hope
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6:00 PM
Bethany at Carnegie Mellon
Video Preview Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
St. Vincent at Case Western Reserve
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
6:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Western Connecticut
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Berry at Washington U.
Video Video Preview Preview Live Stats Live Stats Audio Audio
7:00 PM
North Park at Millikin
Video Live Stats
10:00 PM
Pomona-Pitzer at Chapman
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10:00 PM
La Verne at Cal Lutheran
Video Preview Live Stats
10:00 PM
Occidental at Redlands
Video Live Stats Audio
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
0:13.2 4th
35 Merchant Marine
38 Hobart
Video Live Stats Audio
4th - 10:30
17 Juniata
52 Johns Hopkins
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
3rd - 04:15
6 TCNJ
24 Salisbury
Video Live Stats Audio
HALF
28 Thomas More
15 Westminster (Pa.)
Video Live Stats Audio
Halftime
31 Wabash
14 Hiram
Video Live Stats
HALF
17 Buffalo State
14 St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio
HALF
38 Stevenson
0 Misericordia
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
Start of the 3rd Quarter
7 Springfield
21 St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
3rd - 14:12
14 Huntingdon
28 N.C. Wesleyan
Video Video Live Stats
2nd Quarter - :21
21 Mount Union
7 Ohio Northern
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
2nd - 02:14
27 Franklin
7 Manchester
Preview Live Stats
2nd - 10:46
14 Wittenberg
0 Wooster
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Illinois Wesleyan
Video Live Stats
Start of 2nd
3 UW-Whitewater
7 UW-Platteville
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
14:50 2nd Qtr.
14 St. John's
7 Bethel
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 13:09
14 Sul Ross State
20 Hardin-Simmons
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Belhaven
Video Live Stats
15:00 2nd Q
14 Dubuque
7 Central
Video Live Stats Audio
2nd - 14:43
0 Augsburg
13 St. Thomas
Video Live Stats
3:00 PM
UW-Stout at UW-Oshkosh
Video Preview Live Stats Audio Audio
4:30 PM
Lewis and Clark at Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio