NEW IBERIA, La. (AL) – In Acadiana, and virtually anywhere in the South, football is a big deal and the love of the game is more than just a pastime, but practically a way of life. And while a significant portion of local fans pack the many rows of bleachers nearly each and every weekend to watch their favorite sports heroes face off in the endzone, many don’t realize just how much goes into making the game fair and open to everyone, especially from the numerous officials working on and off the field.
Athletic officials usually get their start officiating for high school games and then slowly work their way up to college games, conferences and ultimately the NFL.
That’s how local SEC referee Jesse Dupuy got his start. Dupuy played football in high school, but lacked the prowess needed to continue playing in college. However, this didn’t discourage him from pursuing a career in football.
“I played football in high school, and then, honestly, coming out of high school, I really was not big enough nor did I have the skillset needed to play at the next level,” says Dupuy. “But I had the strong desire to stay with the game.”
When he was in college in 1986, he began officiating high school football and found that he had a talent for refereeing. He quickly earned his way into officiating a state championship game in 1996. From there he was picked up by the Southland Conference and then the Sun Belt Conference until he was ultimately drafted by the Southeastern Conference in 2002, which he still officiates for today.
“Once you get to the Division 1 level, most guys working that level don’t do it for the money–it’s for the love of the game, it’s the competitive nature, it’s you against the crowd in that you’re getting the call right,” says Dupuy. “It’s what keeps me coming back year after year. It’s the excitement of the game.”
It’s that mentality that Dupuy says has contributed to his success as an SEC referee–one highlight from that 15-year career being the opportunity to work at the SEC Championship game last year.
“Since 2002, I’ve seen a lot of change in the game and I’ve seen a lot of great athletes come through the league,” he says. “And so, I don’t really give it much thought while I’m in the middle of it, but I know someday I’m going to look back and say, ‘Ya know, I officiated games that that pro-player played in.’
“And so, that’s the exciting part of it,” he adds.
At 55, Dupuy is now a 31-year veteran football referee. But by day, he works as a broker selling insurance to the oil and gas industry and the healthcare industry as the senior vice president at Regions Insurance in Lafayette.
Football patronage runs deep in Dupuy’s clientele, but he says he doesn’t try to hide the fact that he moonlights as a college football referee.
“I would say that it helps create dialogue with prospects and current clients,” says Dupuy. “Everybody loves SEC football, especially in the oil and gas industry. You’re either an LSU fan or a Texas A&M fan just by nature of those schools being oil and gas related, and of course UL Lafayette also.
“All of my clients know that I work in the SEC, but when a prospect finds out that I work in the SEC, it allows for me to create a relationship with those guys or a common interest, which then allows for a better dialogue for what I do on a day-to-day basis.”
Dupuy adds that his duties as a referee often work as his way to relieve stress from his primary occupation.
“I sell insurance for a living and so that in itself is a different kind of stress,” he says. “And really, I think of football as a release of that type of stress. But there’s another type of stress associated with getting the call right, and just the competitive nature that I have is that we always strive to make sure that the call on the field is correct so that it doesn’t have to go to replay in certain instances.”
However, when a call does go to a replay, it’s up to another unseen official on the gridiron to analyze the game’s footage and offer viable evidence to a referee so that he may make the proper judgement.
One such official is Dan Blum, who is a local replay official for Conference USA with 40 years of experience working on the field. Blum is one of the officials in the press box at the replay booth who works with an assistant and an equipment technician to review certain plays that occur on the field.
Blum and his team are able to stop the game and review such plays for the referee. In a way, they basically act as investigators for each game in order to collect what they call “indisputable video evidence.”
“In other words, let’s say they rule that it’s a touchdown, that a runner scored a touchdown, and I’ve got indisputable video evidence that his elbow touched the ground before the ball crossed the goal line,” explains Blum. “Well then, I can change that from a touchdown and put the ball back where his elbow touched the ground. So that’s what replay does.”
With virtually every college game today being televised somewhere, Blum and his team primarily get their video feeds from television production.
“They feed us all the video that they have of that play and my technician captures it with his equipment, and then he gives me the feeds on my screen where I can control it,” says Blum. “I have a controller and I can run a play slow, I can run it forward, or I can run it backwards to make a determination. But, in order to change anything, it’s got to be what we call ‘indisputable video evidence.’
“In college now, there’s eight officials on the field, so we’re sort of like the ninth official,” adds Blum. “We don’t officiate for them. There are obvious things that we can get involved in. So we’re a backup to them. The idea is: let’s get it right.”
Blum clarifies that he can only review certain things like whether a referee calls a pass interference or if they make a holding call, however things like whether it was a score or not is something that they cannot get involved in.
During Blum’s lengthy career as a replay official, he has had the opportunity to work six bowl games including the Cotton Bowl.
“Bowl games for college officials are just like postseason assignments for NFL officials,” Blum says. “Those are your rewards for doing an extra good job. Those bowl games are always highlights, but the real enjoyment out of it is the challenge to get it right and the camaraderie that you form with the guys that you work with.”
Blum says he gets asked all the time, “why did you chose to do something where nobody likes you and where you’re criticized and people holler at you?”
“I never did it to make somebody else happy,” he responds. “I did it because I wanted to be good at it. I took pride in being good at it. And knowing that when I walked off the field I did a good job.”
According to Blum, some fans may not always agree with what he does, but it’s a necessary job to ensure the integrity of the game as a whole.
“The job of an official in any sport is to do two things: it’s to manage the game and to make sure that one team doesn’t get an advantage over the other by breaking the rules,” he says. “That’s what an official does.
“So, you’re not going to make everybody happy, because you’re going to make decisions that are going to make one side or the other unhappy. So, you recognize that. You don’t look for approval,” says Blum. “But, you just take pride in being prepared and going out and doing the best you can and hopefully doing a good job and giving the kids and the coaches and the fans a good experience.”
[This article was originally published in the September 2017 edition of Acadiana Lifestyle and appeared on AcadianaLifestyle.com.]