Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

GAMEDAY: Working overtime: The experiences of an SEC official


The boos are never too far behind the flags.

That was true in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday when the Gators – with the SEC Championship spot up for grabs – kept giving the Vanderbilt Commodores new life with late penalties.

SEC head linesman Jay Vines watched the Florida sideline erupt in disbelief as the home crowd booed the targeting call, but none of it made a difference to him. He hasn’t heard the jeers from the crowd in over a decade.

“The game of college football that we love so much wouldn’t be a lot of fun if you didn’t have the fans,” Vines said. “We’re not the game. We’re just a part of the game, and it’s been a long time since I heard booing.”

His wife Toni’s skin is not always so thick. At times she finds herself shaking her head when fans criticize an officiating crew whether her husband is on it or not.

“Every now and then a call’s made and flags fly and I think I hope that’s a good call and if its not I say I hope he wasn’t the one that did it,” Toni Vines said. “Other people don’t really know the rules and don’t know that they’re talking about and it’s a little frustrating.”

Jay Vines has seen just about everything there is to see as he enters his 18th full-time and 23rd total year as an official for the Southeastern Conference. In fact, it could be argued that few people know the SEC as well as Vines does.

Vines’ experience with the SEC began in 1975 when he found himself playing under a coach many looked up to – Paul “Bear” Bryant. Under Bryant, Vines found himself playing alongside future NFL players like his friend Buddy Aydelette.

“Just being a player probably gives him that added insight into the games,” Aydelette said. “Jay’s just not a one trick pony.”

As a member of the practice squad, Vines did whatever the team asked of him, and he didn’t feel any less apart of the team. Eventually, Bryant found a scholarship, and Vines was rewarded for completing the grueling practices Bryant’s teams had a reputation for having.

“Just being a part of the team, being able to dress for the team [and] being able to practice with the team was a high honor,” Vines said.

Getting the national championship ring was nice too, but Bryant had more to offer Vines than a scholarship and a ring.

In 1979, Vines walked into Bryant’s office to tell the revered coach that he was forgoing his final year of eligibility to prepare himself for graduate school.

“[Bryant] was very interested about you being the kind of man, many times he would say ‘I want you to be a great father, a great husband I want you to be a great man,’ ”Vines said.

In that meeting Bryant offered his player a position as the graduate assistant in charge of running study hall for the scholarship athletes.

While he was a graduate student at UAB, Vines began officiating little league games. He was hooked on it from the first official.

“I tell people ‘I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I own a set of golf clubs so I play a little bit of golf every once in awhile, but I mean truly the one hobby that I’ve had through my adult life has been football officiating,’ ” Vines said.

From there he worked his way up until he was a mainstay in the SEC. Over the years he’s worked with a number of famous coaches past and present including Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

He was there when Tim Tebow led the Gators to a victory over No. 4 LSU in 2009 and he’s officiated the SEC Championship game before, but the some of the most memorable experiences in his career occurred in his first four years with the league.

“I officiated the first seven overtime game ever in college football history,” Vines said. “It was Arkansas at Ole Miss. That’s the game I will probably always put down as the single number one game. I mean you can imagine being on the sidelines and when you came up to that seventh overtime the history behind it.”

Dramatic finishes have followed Vines throughout his career.

“During the first seven years in the league I refereed more overtime games than anybody in the NCAA,” Vines said. “Some guys didn’t want to officiate with me, it was a little bit of joke because they didn’t want to have to work overtime too much.”

In all his years with the SEC Vines estimates he’s only been to five Alabama games. He is not allowed to officiate for his former school, but he found another way to get on the field inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

This spring Vines will officiate his 24th consecutive A-Day. He said it’s a source of pride for him to officiate that game for what he’s sure has to be a record length of time.

Out of all of the spring scrimmages, Saban’s first stands out to Vines. He remembers seeing the masses gather to witness the revival of the program.

“It was full, I mean completely full,” Vines said. “Now that was a unique day and I remember being there and that still stands out as one of the more unique things just to see people fill it up and fill it up.”

Vines’ experience with the sport extends beyond his hobby. His job as Dr. James Andrew’s administrator has allowed him to meet some of the greatest athletes in the sport and that includes several from the SEC.

“I mean Dr. James Andrews is known all over the world as the best orthopedic surgeon in the world,” Vines said. “Legally, I’m not supposed to tell you the experiences I’ve had with so many patients. I mean presidents, heads of state, the greatest athletes of the world across sports I meet from over 100 countries.”

Even after all of his experiences, Vines still gets a little nervous before games even if they are on the less prominent side, like his game this weekend which pits Texas A&M against FCS program Western Carolina.

“Right at the first of a game I will feel little butterflies not because of the kind of game,” Vines said.

Then he’ll go to work.

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