EL PASO, Texas -- Monday through Thursday, Gene Semko reviews cases as a divorce attorney from his offices in Downtown El Paso.
But on Saturdays in the fall, he reviews cases from the replay booth on college football's biggest stage.
As a referee in the Big 12 Conference, he has to! By the power vested in him, the outcome of any game could depend on it.
“I mean we are graded on every play that we do. We have a system in place in the Big 12," says Semko, who joined the Big 12 in 2004. "You can’t hide, you can’t say oh I hope they don’t see this. In the old days, you could get a way with stuff. You can’t hide from the camera.”
As a side judge in a Power 5 Conference, Semko has fallen under the microscope of the most emotional scenes in the sport. He and his colleagues know their reputation is only as good as their last call.
“In the game of football, there may only be four to six plays that are critical in the whole game as far as how to officiate it. Problem is, when you have 220 plays in the Big 12 because they don’t huddle, you don’t know when those six plays are gonna happen."
"If you take off one play, that’s when that play is gonna happen. And so you just gotta stick with your keys, with your protocol, your present routine, your post-snap routine, and then wipe it clean, move onto the next play.”
Very few could handle a job of such high consequence. So it’s incredible to think of officiating as just a hobby for Semko, who’s maintained practice as a divorce lawyer in El Paso for 43 years.
“The whole thing about being a lawyer, is about being prepared. It’s just like going on a football field. We do the same thing down at this office. Because if you are prepared, you can settle cases. Because the goal is to settle cases and not go to court.”
Perhaps that’s why Semko knows when to show good judgement.
Just like in a divorce settlement, Semko knows when to pick and choose battles in a dispute on the sideline.
“There are three teams out there. And we’re one of the teams out there that’s gotta be prepared to officiate the game fairly," says Semko of his crew.
"We don’t call everything, if we called everything, we’d be there all day and it’d be about us. You have to have the judgement to know I’m letting that go."
When you think about it, dealing with hothead football coaches is probably a walk in the park for a family lawyer!
"No coach is ever going to be your friend. They could be your friend, then they think they’re going to get a call."
Gene’s reputation as an attorney is parallel on the football field. In 2016, he moved to the Big 12 replay booth as a video official.
His crew most recently presided over last week’s National Title Game between Ohio State and Alabama, marking the third championship game that Semko has officiated in his career.
But for Semko, the constant between his day job and his hobby is the fundamental truth.
“The bottom line is, if you ever have to say 'I think he fumbled,' It stands."
"There is no such word as 'I think it’s an incomplete pass.' It’s incomplete or what they ruled ong the field. Pressure is a privilege."
And that ruling will always be confirmed.