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Bigelow keeping close to beautiful game

No matter where his current career takes him, the words of Manchester University head men's soccer coach Dave Good are never too far from the thoughts of Andrew Bigelow.

Even with 40,000-plus screaming Major League Soccer fans around them as he and his fellow referees took the field in CenturyLink Field, the home of Seattle Sounders, earlier this summer, he could hear his coach talking about "taking things one step at a time."

"That was Coach Good's philosophy during the time which I played soccer (for the Spartans)," the Auburn, Ind., native, three-time all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference honoree who played on the 2003 league champion squad and DeKalb High School history teacher said. "The non-conference matches were important first. From there, you focused on conference and, if you made it far enough, it was on to the conference tournament. He was always big on the next opportunity and the new day."

"I've used that thinking in my career as a soccer official," he added. "You have to … you just can't look too far ahead."

Bigelow's road to officiating NCAA Division I and MLS matches began when he attended DeKalb High School. He became a Level 8 (entry level) official in 1997 and has slowly risen to his current Level Four status. Bigelow has been able to do many state high school matches as well as collegiate contests during his career. Now, he's working towards Level 3 which would allow him to work professional matches.

"The early levels (eight through five) are all about experience," he said. "After that, match experience is added to needing to be assessed to move up. It's all about how well you do your job when someone is watching you.

"US Soccer and the MLS have a group called Pro that handles official assessments," he added. "It begins in the preseason with a classroom session and FIFA fitness test which is 10 laps around a track and 150 meters in 30 seconds followed by a 50 meter recovery walk . During the season, they are in the stands gauging your work. From there, every match is assessed with feedback as to what went well and what can be improved on during a 48-to-72 hour window. "

Bigelow serves as an assistant referee on a crew of four which includes center referee (whistle), two assistant referees (AR's with flags), and fourth official (bench/technical area). He stated that his primary job is calling offsides, a duty which requires a great deal of concentration and changing of directions and speed.  

"The speed of play at the professional level is impressive and requires constant attention to the second to last defender while also watching as much of the field as possible," Bigelow said. "I'm also responsible for one side of the field in terms of helping with out of bounds, goal line decisions, and assisting the center referee with calling fouls and misconduct (yellow and red cards) that are in my area outside of his view.  We keep in constant communication throughout the match via beeper flag technology and an open microphone system that connects all four members. "

Even with all of that in front of him and his crew members, Bigelow has taken time to think about continuing the climb to higher levels.

"With a World Cup summer going on, it's hard not to wonder about Levels One and Two because they deal with international play," he noted. "There has been a North American crew in Brazil that has shown themselves very well … letting FIFA know how much good work we do, so there are opportunities there.

"That World Cup interest and the rise in American soccer have helped give individuals like myself new chances," he added. "With the Indy 11 of the North American Soccer League so close, the US Open Cup going on and so forth, I've been able to get valuable work which has led to being part of a Chicago Fire match and then the chance to travel to Seattle and Portland."

Just when the thoughts begin to rise though, he hears the words of his former head coach. The philosophy also aids him in his family life, too, as he and his wife, Ashley, a 2005 MU graduate as is Andrew, are the parents of three daughters ages five years down to six months.

"It's natural to think about what might be," Bigelow admitted. "However, like Coach Good said, you have to take it one day at a time."