NFL hires five more officials

Four new hires have collegiate referee experience

Football Zebras has learned the names of five more college officials hired by the NFL, and that there will be a total of eleven new officials in 2014.

Alex Kemp, Brad Allen, Scott Novak, Bryan Neale and Brad Freeman have been hired by the NFL according to various sources. Kemp comes to the NFL from the Big 10 conference, Allen from the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Novak from the Big 12 Conference.  In the 2013 season, all three worked at the referee position. Previously, we reported Shawn Hochuli was also hired, who was just recently a referee in the Pacific 12 Conference.

Alex Kemp worked the 2011 BCS National Championship Game as a side judge.  He has worked the past two falls as a Big 10 referee.  Alex is the son of the late Stan Kemp, an NFL official from 1986 – 91, mostly as a side judge. He worked one season as a referee, before being forced to retire due to health reasons.  Scott Novak worked the 2012 BCS National Championship Game as a referee.  Allen has worked in the ACC since 2005 and worked the 2012 Rose Bowl.

All three collegiate referees were part of the advanced training program during the 2013 NFL preseason – Allen as a back judge and Novak and Kemp as side judges.   Each of these referees come into the NFL as the league is on the cusp of having several veteran white hats have their individual retirement windows open, which will make the league have to consider several appointments to referee in the coming years.

Big 10 Conference umpire Bryan Neale has been hired by the NFL, most likely replacing retired umpire Scott Dawson.  Neale joined Kemp in officiating the 2011 BCS National Championship game and has several other bowl games to his credit.  Neale was wired up for sound by an Indianapolis television station this past season (video).  Neale was an advanced training program umpire this past NFL preseason.

Freeman is the son of current NFL back judge Steve Freeman.  Brad Freeman comes to the NFL as a Southeastern Conference back judge and also worked 2013 NFL preseason games, including one with his father.

All of these hires are conditional on passing a physical exam and a final background check. The league thoroughly vets its candidates, so there is not likely to be an issue here.

Congratulations to all the new officials and best wishes for a successful pro career.

NFL may have to change the way it appoints referees

White hat

Vital proving grounds for white hat candidates no longer exist

Commentary by Mark Schultz

The NFL could be having a white hat problem in the next few years.  Several referees have put in 20 or more years of service, meaning that their retirement window is starting to open.  There are at least four referees now that could be candidates to retire in the next one to three years.  It may be a challenge to find referees to replace those and later candidates.

From the 1991 through 2007, the NFL was able to give potential NFL referees an audition in the now-defunct World League of American Football and NFL Europe.  Ron Winter, Ed Hochuli, and Bill Carollo were among several who auditioned for an entire season at the referee position.  The NFL was able to work with the referee candidate for the entire season and judge him not only on mechanics, accuracy of calls, and microphone work, but they were also able to observe him lead a crew week-in and week-out.  The NFL officiating office was able to get a good read on what type of on-field and off-field leader the referee candidate would be.  Unfortunately, the NFL pulled the plug on its European franchise, taking away a very fertile proving ground for several prospective NFL referees.

Today, the NFL auditions potential referees during preseason games.  The candidate is a current NFL official who usually has prior referee experience at the college or Arena Football League level.  The NFL might audition an official with no prior referee experience, but has expressed interest in the position and/or excelled in his current position on the field.  One preseason game might give the NFL an idea on how the candidate performs mechanically and on the microphone, but does one game give the NFL officiating office a good idea on a candidate’s off-field crew leadership skills?  You could make the argument that a one game tryout might not be a good barometer – good or bad.  Unfortunately, it is all the NFL has to go on at this time.

Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, no official has been hired straight out of the NCAA ranks and joined the NFL as a referee.  Even outstanding referees like Jerry Markbreit, Red Cashion, Jerry Seeman and Gerald Austin put in time at another position.  It appears that the philosophy of the NFL is to hire a college referee and assign him to another position (usually line judge, head linesman, field judge, side judge or back judge) to learn the NFL game, its rules, and philosophy, and then consider that official for the white hat when a referee retires.  But, what happens to a college referee who hasn’t worked at another position for several seasons?  Imagine a referee working in the backfield for several years judging holding, chop blocks, and roughing the passer.  Now, they are thrust into another position, possibly on the sideline amid a cacophony of screaming coaches, and having to learn the nuances of illegal contact, pass interference, and the process of the catch.  Does this put a college referee in a position to succeed as a NFL official?  Jon Bible was a NFL official for three years before being terminated by the league.  He was a NCAA referee who was hired as a deep wing, and he said he never adjusted to the downfield game.  Mr. Bible returned to the NCAA as a Big 12 referee and went on to officiate several high-profile games with great success.  There are current NFL officials who have NCAA referee experience, and now occupy another on field position with varying degrees of success.   

With the NFL having limited chances to audition current officials for the referee position and the NFL hiring a collegiate referee “out of position,” could it be time for the NFL to reverse over 40 years of tradition and hire a NCAA referee straight out of college and make him a NFL referee in his first year in the league?  If college referees have been entrusted to officiate Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, USC-UCLA, and the BCS National Championship Game, don’t you think they have what it takes to call NFL games?  If that philosophy is to succeed, a rookie referee straight out of college would have to have a crew of excellent veterans to help the new white hat along in rules knowledge and league philosophy, and the NFL would have to invest in the rookie referee for two to three years to help him spread his wings and fly before judging him on his competency.  There are two big questions to this idea:  Would the group of grizzled NFL veterans submit to a rookie referee’s leadership? And, can a referee really make the jump from Saturday to Sunday afternoons?  It might be an experiment worth trying.

There will be two referee positions open for the 2014 season.  Given the coming mass exodus of NFL white hats in the coming years, it might be time for the league to try some different methods to vet and appoint this most important officiating position. 

Speculation whirls around new referee hires

NFL will hire from current roster

Scott Green and Ron Winter have retired, opening up two slots at the referee position.  The NFL has not hired a referee straight out of college and into the NFL since the 1970 merger, so the two new white hats will come from the current roster of officials.wrolstad end zonet

In the past, the NFL has auditioned current officuials at the referee position during the preseason.  In 2013, the NFL auditioned Wayne Mackie, Adrian Hill, Ronald Torbert, and Craig Wrolstad at the referee position. While the NFL could consider other candidates, there is a very strong chance that two of those four will be appointed as new crew chiefs starting this fall.

The NFL takes into account prior referee experience in college and arena football leagues; however it is not required that officials have prior experience at the referee position.  Walt Anderson worked exactly one game as a white hat at a lower college level before being hired as a NFL referee, and Dale Hamer had no referee experience before the NFL made him a white hat.  What the NFL does take into account is how well the official performs at his current position, and the official’s leadership skills.  The NFL also wants to invest in a potential referee, meaning the NFL hopes a referee can work 15 to 20-plus years at the position — so an official in his mid-50s and older has a tougher chance to take the white hat. (There are two notable exceptions: Cal Lepore and Scott Green were made referees in their mid-50s and were referees for less than 10 years.)

All indications are that Craig Wrolstad (pictured) and Ronald Torbert will be promoted to referee for 2014, although that is not yet confirmed.  Both distinguished themselves in their auditions and both were assigned a playoff game this past fall (Mackie was also assigned a playoff game and Hill did not receive an on-field assignment).  One factor that may be working in Wrolstad’s favor is he just completed his 11th season.  This means the window will start to close in the next few seasons, so if he’s going to be a referee, it needs to happen soon.  Torbert has pretty extensive experience already as a NCAA referee and has distinguished himself as a side judge.  

Photo: Jimmy Cribs/Atlanta Falcons

R Ron Winter retires after 19 seasons


Football Zebras exclusive

Football Zebras has learned that Ron Winter will not be returning for the 2014 season, according to several sources.

Winter is the sixth official to retire at the conclusion of the 2013 season and the second from the referee position. Those six retiring officials all worked in the final two NFL games of the season: two from the Super Bowl (side judge Dave Wyant and field judge Scott Steenson) and now four from the Pro Bowl.

The shoes worn by referee Scott Green, umpire Scott Dawson and side judge Larry Rose at midfield of the Pro Bowl after they completed their final game of their careers [Michael Yanow/NFL].Winter was an alternate on referee Scott Green’s Pro Bowl crew in January. Green and side judge Larry Rose announced their intention to retire prior to the game. During the game, NBC Sports announcer Al Michaels said umpire Scott Dawson was also retiring. Following the game, NFL photographer Michael Yanow captured an image of Green’s, Dawson’s, and Rose’s shoes  at midfield, analogous to a similar gesture to retiring baseball umpires leaving their equipment at home plate after their final game. Winter’s shoes were notably not part of the photo.

One source indicated that Winter may have not made a retirement decision by gametime. “He may have been convinced to walk away,” our officiating source said.

We contacted Winter, but he politely declined our interview.

The most likely reason has nothing to do with performance, but a imminent necessity to work in new officials to the referee position. After Green’s retirement, six of the remaining 16 officials are headed for at least their 20th NFL season; another five referees will hit that milestone in five years. While 20 seasons is not a magic number, and it ignores several factors that make an enduring official, it is a measure that shows a transition is on the horizon. It is possible that Winter was convinced to walk away to avoid a heavy concentration of white hat retirements.

Winter joined the NFL in 1995 from the Big 10 Conference and was promoted to referee in 1998. His first postseason assignment as a referee was memorable — a word that causes anyone who has worn stripes to cringe a little.

In a 2002 NFC Wild Card game, the Giants squandered a huge lead to the 49ers, but were lining up for a game-winning field goal with six seconds remaining. The snap was bad, causing the Giants to resort to an impromptu pass play. One of the linemen, Rich Seubert was interfered in his attempt to catch the pass (video). The 49ers were not flagged for pass interference; the reason was never identified, but it seems either the interference wasn’t seen in traffic or Seubert was det as determined by those covering officials to not be an eligible receiver. (Another Giants lineman was flagged for being downfield illegally.) Winter huddled up his crew — including Green, who was his back judge — then he announced the game was over.

The following day, the league released a statement that said Seubert was lined up in an eligible receiver position for the field-goal attempt and had reported as eligible. Therefore, the pass interference foul should have been called. Combined with the penalty called on the Giants, the two penalties would have offset, giving the Giants another chance at the field goal. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue even went on record to say the call was “totally unacceptable.” The head of the officiating department, Mike Pereira, instituted a procedure for the following year’s playoffs that kept regular season crews relatively intact for the first rounds of the playoffs, rather than mixed crews. (That procedure ended in 2012 under the officials’ collective bargaining agreement.)

In a 2011 regular season game between the Bengals and Ravens, Winter was suddenly in the path of a fumbled ball, in a highlight video shown for its hilarity, rather than being potentially horrifying (TV broadcast, NFL Films). Winter was completely swallowed up by a fumble scrum of heavily padded players while braced himself for the unavoidable. Winter was bruised quite a bit, but he completed the game.

Winter was used as an example of whistle technique in a Football Zebras feature on avoiding inadvertent whistles. He held his whistle in his hand on an extra long lanyard so that he could also move his arms while running.

Winter is a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University. He also served as the director of campus recreational activities until 2008. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports; Winter is near the end of his first two-year term on the council.

Images: Perry Knotts/NFL, Michael Yanow/NFL

Correction: Some of the facts related to the Giants-49ers play were re-worded for clarity. The previous version indicated that the Giants penalty was called on the wrong player, when in fact that call was properly made. There has not been a clear reason why the 49ers penalty wasn’t called, and the revised paragraph now reflects that. For the record, neither call was Winter’s to make, but the statements by the league indicate that they considered it a crew error that it wasn’t sorted out properly by all seven officials.

Simplifying complex enforcements: Breaking down Proposal No. 13


2014 rule changes

The Competition Committee offered up a proposal that received little discussion, and was explained by committee member Jeff Fisher in a fairly obscure manner:

Basically, this Proposal Number 13 is going to simplify everything; clean it all up, make sure we don’t have any issues. [The officials] have a lot of conferences, and there are a lot of things that can happen with the enforcement. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to enforce from the previous spot rather than the end of the run or the spot of the foul [in certain situations]. We think it really cleans things up from a rule enforcement standpoint.

That’s the Cliffs Notes version of the new rule. It affects fouls on three different types of plays: running plays with losses of yardage, running plays with losses of possession, and plays after scrimmage kicks.

By simplifying the enforcement points, the offense gains a new advantage in certain situations. Consider this play from last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff game (video) when the Patriots  botched the snap on a punt. The line of scrimmage was the 44, and the ball was finally recovered by the Patriots at the 2. Hypothetically, let’s say one of the Colts committed a facemask foul after the recovery, and then the Patriots fumbled out of the end zone. Under the old rules, the foul would be enforced from the 2 (spot of the foul), because the dead-ball spot is a worse outcome as a safety. Adding 15 yards brings the ball to the 17. However, since there cannot be a loss for the offense on an accepted defensive penalty, the Patriots would get the ball back at the previous spot, giving them 1st and 10 from the 44.

The simplified rule would not involve the spot of the foul nor the dead-ball spot; even the must-make-the-line-of-scrimmage provision is out. The foul would be enforced from the 44, giving the Patriots, in this example, the ball at the Colts 41. This would net a penalty that occurred at the 2 to be marched off 57 yards for a Patriots first down.

Here are the new enforcement rules explained:

1. If the spot of the foul is behind the line of scrimmage and the defensive foul is behind the line of scrimmage on a running play, the foul is enforced from the line of scrimmage.

1 behind_behind

2. If a running play results in a turnover, but the defense committed a foul prior to the recovery, the enforcement depends on whether the fumble occurred behind the line of scrimmage or not. It is irrelevant as to where the foul occurs, but remember, fouls that occur at the snap (defensive offside, defensive 12 man on the field) will be enforced from the previous spot and replay the down.

Of course, since the defense does not have a “clean hands” recovery, the penalty nullifies the change of possession.

Note: This enforcement is also applied to backward passes that are recovered by the defense. Also, it only applies to a single change of possession.

2 run_cop


3. The third type of enforcement is a foul by the receiving team during a scrimmage kick (punt or missed field goal, but not a kickoff). Here, we ignore the previous spot, because it was prior to when the kicking team surrendered the ball. The Competition Committee has eliminated the dead-ball spot as a point of enforcement, which would be used on a punt return for negative yardage.

(There are two instances that may continue to be treated as spot fouls only: invalid fair-catch signal and unnecessary roughness for blocking after a fair-catch signal. This will be ascertained once the final rule is placed in the rulebook.)

This does not include a foul during a runback. Once the receiving team has possessed the ball, the play ceases to be a kick, and all enforcements are treated as a regular running play. On the runback, a foul by the receiving team goes to the spot of the foul or the dead-ball spot (whichever is worse), and a foul by the kicking team is tacked on from the dead-ball spot.

Also, because a free kick (kickoff) is essentially a free ball, these enforcement points only apply to kicks after a snap. The possession of the ball is the fulcrum point when the kickoff line no longer becomes a point of enforcement. Therefore, most receiving team fouls during the kickoff necessitate a rekick.

3 kick_ppf

Now, that is how the Competition Committee sought to simplify the penalty enforcement process. And, it may lead to longer conferences at first to get the right enforcement spot.

Despite calls for major change, NFL makes simple tweaks to replay

The NFL officiating department command center in New York City.

2014 rule changes

The 2014 replay process is going to be much the same as the process from 2013; the changes being made to the system probably will barely register with most fans.

There were too many hurdles to implementing a true centralized replay system, so a simple change will allow the senior officiating staff to eavesdrop on the field-to-booth communication between the referee and the replay official. Dean Blandino or Alberto Riveron — the vice president and the senior supervisor of officiating, respectively — will be available to consult on every replay review. The home office won’t be able to compel a review that is under the exclusive domain of the replay official (plays that are scores, turnovers, after the two-minute warning, or in overtime); this includes the replay official’s decision to confirm there are no reviewable elements on a scoring play.

Replay rule revisions

VP of officiating or his designate can be consulted during replay review
Loose-ball recoveries in the field of play are reviewable
Rule 15-9-4 (reviewable plays) reorganized for an easier read

Although the complete operational details are not known, it appears that the referee will be allowed to make his call in a replay review. Initial indications are that Blandino and Riveron will take a hands-off approach, and allow the process of the review to go as normal. In cases where there is a misapplication of the rules or a missed aspect of the play, Blandino or Riveron can intercede. However, if the boss’s opinion is expressed during the review process, what grade-conscious referee is going to discard that opinion and go out on his own?

Football Zebras has learned that there is already precedent of this “senior staff audit” of the replay process. Because of the controversy around the playoff assignment in last year’s Chargers-Bengals wild card game, Blandino was in Cincinnati, and our sources say Blandino was positioned in the back of the replay booth to keep watch over the reviews.

dr_strangeloveSomething had to change this offseason with replay to ensure preventable errors were not made. While there was a widespread call to have the NFL match the NHL “war room” replay model, Football Zebras reported on Feb. 2 that the likely result was the system that the owners ultimately passed on Tuesday.

This new system, while just a minor change, will put Blandino right in the cross-hairs of public opinion to deliver. Blandino hasn’t been publicly tested quite like this, as his “Official Review” segments on the NFL Network come hours, even days, after the call. Blandino’s knowledge of the rules is unquestionably strong, but there is no room for error under the new process.

Based on his past statements, Blandino didn’t even want centralized replay, and this system buys him some time. If the league can make it through the 2014 season without a replay controversy, then there won’t be a major effort to reform and centralize the replay operation.

Recovery of a loose ball reviewable. There were three notable instances of a loose-ball recovery from the last season that could not be reviewed under the rules:

Previously, loose-ball recoveries could only be reviewed as part of a boundary-line or end-zone decision. In all other instances, the ruling of a recovery could only come when a play was reversed to a fumble, and an immediate, clear recovery was made. The rationale was to avoid a replay situation where a ball goes into a fumble scrum. Most recoveries will involve a pileup, so the coach will have to be sure indisputable video evidence supports the risk of a loss of a challenge and a timeout.

Reorganized replay rules. Unusually, the entire operation of the replay system is contained in Section 9 of Rule 15; the rest of Rule 15 is dedicated to the duties of the rest of the officiating crew. I thought that the replay rules would be better outlined if they were moved out of the crew responsibilities and into its own rule (like overtime procedures and guidelines for captains are).

Blandino and the Competition Committee tacked on a rewrite of Rule 15-9-4 (reviewable plays) to the proposal for loose-ball recoveries. Because of past revisions to the replay rules, the bullet list became very clunky, and were sort of grouped by the type of play and in overarching categories. The new revision groups by type of reviewable element (plays involving possession, plays involving touching the ball) and divides up the “sideline, goal line, end zone, and end line” meta-category.

Proposals voted down. A proposal from the Patriots would have the allowed a coach to challenge any play, except for scoring plays and turnover plays. This would effectively encompass any official’s decision. The proposal would have allowed the coach to challenge after the two-minute warning and in overtime. It also would have done away with the challenge flag, as coaches would have needed to call a timeout in order to challenge.

Another proposal by Washington to would have added “any personal foul penalty” to the list of reviewable plays.

The Competition Committee, as matter of policy, doesn’t discuss the merits of team proposals, but committee chairman Rich McKay, in response to a reporter’s question during a conference call, did telegraph the fact that the committee was not in favor:

We’ve always shied away, as a committee, from penalties and the review of penalties for the most basic reason. We didn’t want to put the referee in the position of using his subjective judgment on a play in place of the on field official. W e always thought the intent of replay, when it was put back in in 1998, was to deal with plays where there was an objective standard. There was a line, there was a goal line, there was a knee down, there were two feet down or whatever that objective standard may be and to stay away from the subjective aspect of the plays like penalties. So we have not gone down that path but we have discussed it numerous times.

Jeff Fisher, another committee member, realized this comment inadvertently skewered the other proposals, and interjected:

We have had further discussion on it as it relates to Washington’s proposal and New England’s proposal as far as penalties are concerned.

Both proposals were voted down by the owners.

Images: Undated NFL handout photo of the officiating command center; Dr. Strangelove from a Columbia Pictures promotional release.

7-man officiating crews wired up for 2014

Starting in 2014, all NFL officiating crews will be will be equipped with a microphone and earpiece that will enable them to communicate with each other during the game.  The NFL experimented with this technology in the 2013 preseason, as seen above with referee Ron Winter.   Several international soccer referees and linesmen have been using this technology for several years.

The NFL will make this equipment mandatory for 2014 in all games.  Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino says this technology will help speed up the game.  For instance, if the back judge has pass interference on the defense, he can communicate with the referee, “We have DPI down here at the 35 yard line.”  Or on a long gainer, the line judge can let the crew know, “It’s coming back, I have illegal formation.”  The new technology can also help officials confirm 11 players on offense and defense, and it can help the deep officials make sure they have all the receivers covered (“I have the motion man,” or “Trips left, I have the 81 in the middle”).

The communication system will be a push-to-talk variety, as opposed to having seven open microphones.

For several years officials have communicated with each other using hand signals and those signals have worked; however, the officials have to take their eyes off of the players they’re supposed to watch in order to communicate visually.  Now, with this new technology, the officials will be able to call the game clearly and quickly.

 Image: NFL/WNBC

Goalposts will grow 5 feet taller


2014 rule changes

Bill Belichick and the legendary Don Shula now share an interesting and exclusive legacy.

At the annual NFL owners meeting, the rule change proposal from the New England Patriots to extend the height of goalposts by five feet passed, and will apparently be implemented starting with the 2014 season.  The expansion of the goalposts from 30 to 35 feet over the crossbar wa presented as helping officials make clearer and more confident calls. It was Belichick, as coach of the team floating this proposal, who aggressively confronted a replacement official (video) at the conclusion of a 2012 game when a game-ending field goal attempt seemed to go just feet over the top of the goalpost.

When the ball is kicked toward the uprights, it is the responsibility of the officials to look directly up the pipe to determine if the kick is good.  From time to time, field goals kicked directly above the top of either of the goalpost; however NFL officials we’ve spoken with don’t think it’s too difficult of a call.  With the added height, the ball will not hit the goal post and either pass inside or out of the goal posts, and make it easier for the officials to call it quickly.    

With some of the leg power from kickers in the NFL, I’m sure they’ll still be some kicks that continue to sail over the top of the uprights. 

This is the third time since standardized goalposts were used that the height was raised. In the 1965 Western Conference playoffs, the Packers scored a controversial field goal when the ball sailed over the posts. That field goal sent the game into overtime and the Packers beat the Baltimore Colts 13-10. Don Shula, the Colts coach, argued in the offseason that the goalposts should be raised. The following season, they were extended from 10 to 20 feet over the crossbar, in what was dubbed the “Baltimore extensions”. (They were raised again in 1974 to 30 feet.)

And now, we will have the Boston extensions?

No more slam dunks. Speaking of the goal posts, the NFL has now also implemented a rule stating that dunking the ball, after a scoring play, over the goalposts is now treated as a “celebration” foul.  Currently, using props to celebrate a score is flagged as excessive celebration, and now dunking the ball will be considered using a prop.  Surely to be the most devastated by the new interpretation of this rule is Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. A 2013 Thursday night game in Atlanta was delayed by 25 minutes because Graham bent the goalposts while performing one of his famous dunks (video).

Ben Austro contributed to this report.

Football Zebras image, Craig Melvin/Buffalo Bills

NFL orders crack down on taunting, offensive language

rivers 2 uns official

2014 Points of Emphasis

In light of some high-profile on-field incidents of taunting and offensive language in the 2013 season, the NFL is instructing its officials to crack down on acts of taunting and abusive language against players and officials beginning this fall by calling unsportsmanlike conduct fouls on the offenders. It is part of a broader effort that includes awareness for players and teams to be extra conscious of maintaining typical standards of workplace decorum. (See the Competition Committee’s report.)

After the most recent NFL Competition Committee meeting and the NFL owners meeting, league officials spoke adamantly about the need to change the culture on the field.

Former NFL player John Wooten, who pushed for these changes, said, “If you talk to officials or [vice president of officiating] Dean Blandino, the disrespect runs rampant out there.  It’s horrible.” Wooten is chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance which works with the NFL on diversity issues. The alliance is named for a black player and coach who played in the inaugural NFL season.

Jeff Fisher is the head coach of the Rams and a member of the Competition Committee, and says changes will start before the players take the field in 2014:

We’re going to clean the game up on the field between the players — the in-your-face taunting, those type of things, the language.  We’re going to raise the standard…We are going to effect change immediately as early as the [organized team activities] when players come back.  We’ve got to change our conduct on the field. We’ve got to bring the element of respect to the highest level back to our game.

It will be very interesting to see how the NFL will back the officiating staff if the officials strictly call unsportsmanlike conduct fouls for taunting.  This effort to change the culture will be more successful if the coaches and players take the initiative to clean up the language and respect on the field.  The officials can force change through consistent flags on offenders, but if the players and coaches buy in right from the start, it will be easier for everyone involved.  And, it make for a more respectful game, which will be a win for all participants.

Owners approve Competition Committee’s ‘Sportsmanship’ Report


[Editor's note: The following is the text of the report from the Competition Committee, entitled "Sportsmanship," that was approved by the owners at the annual meeting on March 26, 2014. Attached to the report was Rule 12, Section 3, which contains the unsportsmanlike conduct rules.]

“Sportsmanship” in athletic competition can be defined in many ways. In the NFL, we believe this word conveys respect for the game, for opponents, for the game officials, and for the fans. In recent years, taunting, trash-talking, gloating, and a general lack of respect has become all too common in all sports and at all levels. This lack of respect and insensitivity toward others often transcends beyond the playing field into other parts of the workplace. It is a growing concern in every aspect of our game and affects every stakeholder in the NFL.

The Competition Committee believes that the NFL continues to have an obligation to set a standard for sportsmanship because we are the most visible and influential sports entity. Any conduct which adversely affects or reflects on the NFL, or which results in the erosion of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of our games, or the integrity or good character of our participants, will not be tolerated. Children watch NFL games and emulate the behavior of our players in their own athletic competitions and in other aspects of their lives. We are in a position of leadership, and should not hesitate to lead.

Lack of mutual respect for each other and the game is clearly a concern for players, coaches, officials, and League personnel. In the Competition Committee’s annual survey, a number of League coaches identified the decline of sportsmanship as a matter that must be addressed. Members of the Coaches Subcommittee and General Managers Advisory Committee voiced their concerns over the declining level of respect in our game. Our game officials, who are tasked with  enforcing the rules on the field, have also voiced their concern over what they routinely hear and observe on the field. After an incident that led to a suspension of a game official for making derogatory remarks to a player, the game officials’ union issued a statement calling “for an immediate end to a culture which tolerates the use of racially or sexually charged language by players, coaches, field personnel, or in stadium audio/video display.” In our meeting with the NFL Players Association and some of their representative players, the issue of respect and current on-field behavior was a major topic. The players expressed support for initiatives to enhance respect in the workplace, both on and off the field.

After receiving input from these various constituencies and viewing video of examples of such on-field behavior, the Competition Committee recommends an emphasis of the existing rule for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, rather than a rule change proposal. The purpose of this point of emphasis is to clearly identify, through the use of video, for players,coaches, and officials, what are unacceptable actions under this rule. In addition, the use of abusive language will be closely monitored by our game officials. We feel it is necessary to help eliminate a pattern of behavior that is simply unacceptable in the game. The current rules provide more than sufficient authority for game officials to issue warnings or penalties, and for the Commissioner to impose discipline, for abusive, obscene, or racially and sexually-charged language, as well as unsportsmanlike and disrespectful conduct towards opponents,coaches, officials, or fans.

Lack of respect will not be tolerated. Such lack of respect goes beyond actions on the field, such as getting in the face of an opponent or gloating after a play. This includes abusive, threatening, insulting, or profane language or gestures, and physical acts by coaches, players, and other club personnel directed at opponents, officials, game personnel, or fans.

The use of abusive, threatening, or insulting language to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League is covered under Unsportsmanlike Conduct in the playing rules. While the recent focus has been on what has been reported as the rampant use of certain racial slurs among NFL players, the Committee has discussed the use of any and all derogatory statements in relation to, among other things, a person’s race or sexual orientation. Such language is plainly within the scope of existing rules, and when players use racial slurs, statements regarding another player’s sexual orientation, or other “baiting or insulting” verbal abuse, the on-field game officials are empowered to use our current rules for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct to penalize the actions.

As with other points of emphasis, specific acts that are listed in the playing rules will be put on video and shown to players, coaches, and officials. It is the Committee’s position that everything possible will be done to educate players, coaches, officials, media, and fans about the intent and the ramifications of this point of emphasis. It is important to note that this emphasis applies to all people in the team area, including coaches. The use of abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures toward game officials will not be tolerated and will be penalized.

Professionalism in the Workplace

The NFL demands the highest level of professionalism in the workplace. Recent events have provided the impetus to evaluate workplace conduct in the NFL, both on and off the field. The culture of every aspect of the NFL workplace, most notably the locker room, will be examined with an unprecedented level of scrutiny. The Committee has been advised that the League office will implement league-wide initiatives to educate and train all stakeholders on appropriate conduct in the NFL workplace. The Committee discussed this topic in detail and supports any initiative that addresses this matter, whether at the League level or at the club level. The Committee recommends that any initiative focus on education and training of everyone involved in the game.