A string of prime-time missed calls has initiated debate over whether the NFL needs to move toward adding full-time officials.
On the same day officials missed a roughing penalty on a two-point conversion attempt late in the Vikings‘ loss to the Cowboys, Troy Vincent, the league’s vice president of football operations, told The Associated Press that he expects the league to hire as many as 17 full-time officials this offseason.
Vincent added that the additions, which are “a topic of discussion daily,” would be allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement and would increase the size of officiating crews from seven to eight.
However, on Friday, the NFL Referees’ Association denied such developments.
“Like so many things, the devil is in the details and we have yet to hear from the league on those details,” NFLRA executive director Scott Green said in a statement. “We look forward to meeting with them to discuss numerous issues, this being one of them.
“We agreed in the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement that we did not oppose using some full-time officials under certain circumstances including equitable compensation, benefits, clearly documented work duties, employee protections, etc. Details such as these should be discussed in the off season.”
Arguments for a staff of full-time officials call for the NFL to spend more time training and consulting refs year-round so as to decrease officating errors during the season.
However, lost in this conversation is the opinion of the referees currently under contract on a part-time basis, who, as NFL Network’s Judy Battista pointed out on Friday’s edition of Up to the Minute, might not want to seek year-round employment with the league.
“I don’t think that solves the problem,” Battista said of adding full-time officials. “First of all, one problem is the refs don’t want to be full-time because that would mean giving up their real jobs and that’s where they make their money. I’m not quite sure the NFL wants to pay them enough to be full-time refs.”
Members of current NFL officiating staffs are part-time employees and hold jobs outside of football in and out of season. For example, referee Ed Hochuli is a lawyer at the firm Jones, Skelton & Hochuli; Walt Coleman works as a diary farmer in Arkansas; and Pete Morelli has been principal and president of a Stockton-area high school since 1989.
Battista added that calls for full-time officials insinuate that the mistakes made by part-time officials are due to a lack of study and preparedness and that such assumptions are unwarranted.
“I also think that’s unfair and suggests that the current way they’re not studying enough, that they’re not looking at enough tape. … That’s not fair,” Battista said. “I don’t think being a full-time ref solves the problems that they’re having right now. I believe it’s the complexity of the rulebook.
“The Competition Committee is very aware that the rulebook is overloaded with verbiage. They talk about it all the time when they try to put new rules in or change the rules. Look, it’s a complex game that keeps getting faster and faster, they know that, and it wasn’t built to be officiated with high-definition, slow-motion replay and social media.”
NFL Network’s James Palmer added that, from a players’ point of view, the game would benefit more if there was a league-wide consensus on what would be called in-game, regardless of whether referees are full-time or not.
“Maybe you can find a way, if during the week, they have a way to communicate with other crews on a larger scale to where everyone’s on the same conference call to say I’ve been letting this go, I’ve been calling this in terms of holding,” Palmer explained. “The players have told me, if I know exactly what we’re getting into — they do their background check on which crew doesn’t call such and such — that’s a lot of time they spend during the week knowing how a crew calls as opposed to just knowing that they’re going to get roughly the same style of calls from every crew throughout the entire year.”
There is no perfect world where missed calls (i.e. the human element) are abolished from football altogether, but that doesn’t mean that the league isn’t trying to minimize such controversy. Look for this debate to persist into the offseason and beyond.