Football Zebras™

Can replacements keep up with pro game?

[Editor's note: With this post, we welcome Mark Schultz as a contributing writer. We look forward to a long collaborative relationship with him.]

The NFL preseason schedule is commencing without the regular officiating crews who have been locked out by the NFL in a labor dispute. Unlike the officials’ strike in 2001, when the NFL was able to hire replacements from NFL Europe and BCS football conferences, officials from the most competitive conferences are apparently off limits. In many cases, there is a conflict of interest, as some BCS conference officials  are supervised by current or former NFL officials. So the NFL has had to hire Division II, Division III, and Arena Football League officials to take the field (a few former Division I officials, including three from the Pac-12, were also hired).

There are a myriad of rules differences between high school, NCAA, and NFL football. The penalty enforcement and timing rules differences between the three rules codes are mind numbing. But that is not the steepest learning curve for the replacement officials. The biggest adjustment can be summed up in one word.

Speed.

I am a high school football official. The playing speed is quite a jump from JV to varsity levels. The step up from high school to college is stunning. I was privileged to be on the chain gang for a game between two BCS schools several years ago. I stood behind the head linesman (H) for every play and tried to pick up the players the H was supposed to watch. The seven-second play was over before I could register what happened. The blocking techniques, hitting, speed, and intensity were almost frightening. Fans sitting ten rows up can’t even appreciate what takes place on the field. I wish every fan could stand for one quarter on the sideline of a college or NFL game to get a better understanding of what happens between the lines.

My chain gang experience was at the BCS level. Only the best players on those teams make it to the NFL. The blocking techniques, hitting, speed, and intensity are even more frightening at the NFL level. Several current and former NFL officials say it takes five years for a NFL rookie official to get used to the speed, mechanics, and philosophy of officiating at the NFL level.

There will be 120 rookie NFL officials taking to the field this preseason. The NFL had better hope that those replacement officials cram five years of learning into four preseason games.

2 comments for “Can replacements keep up with pro game?

  1. Ben Austro
    August 3, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Great perspective from someone who’s been on the sidelines. Thanks!