Internship gives LSM students inside view of college football

Think you know the officiating nuances of a football game? Not like this you don’t. Elon University seniors Ryan Pauley and Jackie Sapio spent Saturdays this fall watching ACC football games from the conference’s headquarters in Greensboro, documenting every yellow flag and missed call as part of an internship developed through the Department of Leisure and Sport Management.

Jackie Sapio (left) and Ryan Pauley in the ACC’s Football Game Day Operations Center in Greensboro, N.C.

In the dimly lit second-floor Football Game Day Operations Center with computer monitors and digital recording equipment lining the walls, the two leisure and sport management majors logged the clock time of every penalty called during their assigned games.

The duo also monitored use of the ACC logo – does it appear in the correct location on uniforms, in the bench areas and on the turf? – and whether announcers accurately explained what was taking place on the field.

Most ACC games are broadcast and fed directly into the computers manned by Sapio, Pauley and seven other interns. By logging each penalty into a database, every play could be reviewed by the league commissioner, the associate commissioner for football operations and the coordinator of football officials.

“As fans all we see are the games every week. We don’t see the officials working hard to make sure they have their best games,” said Pauley, of King of Prussia, Pa. “Now I’m more familiar with where officials need to be and what certain calls need to be made.”

Once the final game ends each weekend, select plays were loaded into an editing station where the analysis, review and sorting process begins. By Tuesday evening, a weekly training video is uploaded to a secure web site where football officials and coaches can view the recent penalties.

At the end of the season, every penalty that occurred in every game played has been saved to the database. Penalties are labeled and can be searched by the specific type of violation, the official involved, the grade of the call, the quarter, the time, and the team.

“They learn about the office climate, about what’s expected of them in manner and dress, and being on time,” said Ben Tario, assistant director of technology and operations at the ACC. “The experience and the opportunity they get out of this internship are unmatched. When you come in and do a good job you’ll have a heckuva thing to put down on your resume.”

“If the public only knew what goes on behind the scenes … they’d be amazed to see the resources going into this.”

The internship, however, involved more than just watching games. Pauley and Sapio each worked a few hours during the week, completing projects related to the ACC Championship game in Tampa, Fla., which they both attended the first weekend of December. “Being around the profession is a good thing and the ACC has a good reputation,” said Sapio, who came to Elon from outside Cherry Hill, N.J. “That being on a resume will at the very least help start up conversations.”

Sapio and Pauley finished their courses this month and will return to campus in May to take part in Commencement exercises. Both are contemplating additional studies in a graduate program.

“I hope our students gain an appreciation for what it takes to create and brand one of the highest quality college athletic products in the country,” said assistant professor Tony Weaver who, along with professor Hal Walker, formed the partnership Elon shares with the ACC. “Specifically, they are learning how to incorporate innovative technology into sport, deal with game day pressure, and gain experience working in a professional environment.”