Two Fresno referees will have their moment in the spotlight Monday night — working the college football national championship game.
Former San Joaquin Valley Officials Association president Bob Kayajanian couldn’t believe it at first.
Jeff Hansen phoned Kayajanian to say that he and Mike Cuttone — both of whom started their officiating careers with SJVOA — will work the national championship game between Oregon and Ohio State in Arlington, Texas.
“I was basically silent,” said Kayajanian, who officiated games in the 1980s with Hansen. “Jeff called me and said he has a postseason assignment and I said, ‘That’s great. What’s the date?’ He said ‘Jan. 12.’ We usually call each other when we have something in the postseason. When he gave me the date, I knew where he was going.”
Hansen and Cuttone worked as Big 12 officials this past season and will be part of an eight-man crew from the conference that will officiate the championship game. Hansen will serve as the communicator for the replay operator while Cuttone will be the center judge, according to Walt Anderson, an NFL referee and coordinator of football officials for the Big 12.
Referees for the national championship game are not available to talk to the media, Anderson said, leaving it to him and others to extol their virtues and provide a little background.
“I think the assignment to the national championship speaks to the level of confidence in both of their ability,” Anderson said. “(It also) speaks to the reality of their performance for this season because each official that is assigned to work a national championship game is going to have exhibited during that season the highest level of performance, and both Mike and Jeff … demonstrated that during the season and were the two, in their respective position, most deserving of this assignment.”
Anderson said there is a grading system that covers every play in every game and it plays heavily into deciding important assignments.
“It’s our way of continuing to work to improve our program and acknowledge when we do things right and try to identify when we have mistakes so we can correct them,” Anderson said. “Every official on our program is subject to that type of scrutiny and throughout the course of the season, as the evaluations are completed and tabulated, is graded based up on their performance. They know those who grade the highest have the opportunity to officiate the championship game.”
Hansen began officiating high school games in 1976 and worked junior college games with Kayajanian in the 1980s before moving on to NCAA Division I in 1989.
Cuttone started in 1989 and worked high school playoff and championship games along with JC games, including the 2000 state championship.
SJVO football supervisor Randy Wright was ecstatic to learn his colleagues got the nod for Monday.
“Jeff came in every year and evaluated our officials for playoff games — he’s now doing the national championship game. It’s mind-blowing that somebody from our section is able to do that,” Wright said. “Mike was one of ours, who if he wasn’t doing college, he’d be one of our officials now.”
Kayajanian and Wright will not make the trip to Arlington because of prior commitments but will be all smiles at kickoff.
“It’s really outstanding news as far as I’m concerned,” Kayajanian said. “How many people can say they have two from Fresno to work a game like that? Those two guys would tell you it’s another football game. There’s a lot of magnitude given who’s going to be watching this game. It’s going to be fun.”