On any given Saturday during the fall, Roy Potts trades in his beloved Coca-Cola red for black and white.

The veteran public affairs director for Kentucky and Indiana is a football referee in the prestigious Southeastern Conference, known among college fans as the SEC. Potts’ officiating career began in 1976 – the year after he joined Coke – when a spirited chat with a friend after a local high school game inspired him to pick up a whistle and a pair of cleats.

“He asked, ‘Do you know the rules, Roy?’" Potts, 61, recalls. “He started quizzing me, and I quickly realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.”

SEC Football Ref
Signaling a touchdown.

Potts had played football through grade school, but his gridiron days ended during spring tryouts before his freshman year of high school. “I was five-six, 140 pounds going up against guys who were six-three, 215 pounds, so I decided to pack it in,” he says with a chuckle. 

“But I always had a love for football and the fraternal camaraderie associated with the game,” he continues. “As I got older, I continued to follow the game and eventually decided to get into refereeing.” 

Working for the Weekend

Keep in mind, Potts didn’t immediately land a gig on the SEC sidelines. With officiating, like any job, you start at the bottom and work your way up. He first enrolled in training classes on Monday nights and called pee-wee games on weekends in the Louisville area.

Potts quickly moved up to the high school level and, in 1987, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Four years later, he graduated to Division 1-AA and spent several seasons with the Ohio Valley Conference. In 2002, he was invited to join the SEC’s supplemental roster and landed a full-time spot on an officiating crew in 2006 at the age of 53.

He works 12 to 14 games per season. And if you think a ref’s job starts at kickoff and ends with the final whistle, think again. 

“We don’t’ just show up on Saturday and work the ball game – a lot more goes into it than most people realize,” Potts explains. “It’s a week-long activity.” 

Roy and Kelly Potts Ambassador 604
Roy and his daughter Kelly, a colleague and fellow Coca-Cola Ambassador based in Louisville, Ky.

It all starts on Friday night. Potts and his fellow crew members (six officials and one alternate are assigned to each game) arrive in the host city by 6 p.m. for a team dinner, followed by a few hours of film work. Then on game day, the officials meet five hours before kickoff (even for noon games) for a pre-game conference to review rules, mechanics, positioning and other details. 

SEC Football Ref
The 'Potts Crew' at a recent Colon Cancer Prevention Walk in Louisville.

“It’s our way of getting our minds in the game and making sure we’re focused on football,” Potts says. “Each of us has our own area of responsibility on the field, so communication is critical.”

Two hours before kickoff, a police escort transfers the crew from the hotel to the stadium for a series of security and logistics meetings leading right up to game time.

After the game, it’s back to the hotel for a thorough review. The next day, everyone heads home.

“But it doesn’t end there,” Potts says. “By Tuesday of the next week, every official receives a numerical grade and comments for calls made on the field.”

Staying in shape is a key part of the job. All SEC officials are required to pass an annual physical exam and meet other conditioning requirements. Potts runs three miles several times a week throughout the year, and attends an SEC officials’ training camp every summer.

“To be involved in the number-one conference in the country at this level…in the game on the field… there’s nothing like it,” Potts says. “It’s an atmosphere a lot of people would love to be a part of, and I don’t take that for granted.”

Potts will officiate the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, between Duke and Arizona State. Look for him on TV on Dec. 27 at 2 p.m. (EST) on CBS.