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2012XLVIIAssignment ControversySuper Bowl officials on field for divisionals?

Super Bowl officials on field for divisionals?

McAulay, Leavy likely for conference title games

Boger, lacking prerequisites, still rumored as top referee

Playoffs_10_rgbThis year, the speculation of the postseason assignments seems to be rampant, compared with previous years. For the past decade, regular season officiating crews stayed largely intact, qualifying as a group, with a few substitutions for higher grading officials advancing to the big games. Occasionally, an official would grade too low to be considered and would also be replaced.

This season the playoffs are assigned in a divide-and-merge format. “All postseason assignments are based upon the individual performance of each official at their respective position, without regard to the cumulative performance of an entire crew,” said Michael Signora, the vice president of football communications, via e-mail. “This system, as opposed to one that was based in part on crew performance that was in use from 2003-11, was suggested by the union in our recent negotiations as the best way to award postseason assignments, and we agreed.”

Officials are ranked based on their written tests and the evaluation of every play each official participated in. If there is a wrong call or a missed call, it is counted as a downgrade. Each year, the NFL claims that the accuracy of calls in its games ranges between 98 and 99 percent. The officials are generally aware of each other’s grades, and based on multiple direct and indirect sources that we have checked, the following officials are likely to be assigned to the Super Bowl, listed here with their postseason résumés:

      Yr. Crew Playoff assignments (years missed playoffs)
R 23 Jerome Boger 9   3 (3) 3 divisional
U 76 Darrell Jenkins 11 Morelli 5 (4) 2 wild card, 3 divisional
HL 22 Steve Stelljes 11 Anderson 4 (5) 1 wild card, 2 divisional, 1 conf. champ.
LJ 18 Byron Boston 18 Anderson 15 (3) 2 wild card, 5 divisional, 7 conf. champ., 1 Super Bowl
FJ 4 Craig Wrolstad 10 Hochuli 6 (2) 3 wild card, 2 divisional, 1 conf. champ.
SJ 73 Joe Larrew 11 Boger 3 (6) 1 wild card, 2 divisional
BJ 105 Dino Paganelli 7 Steratore 4 (1) 1 wild card, 2 divisional, 1 conf. champ.

(A few notes: the number of years includes this season, but the playoff assignments do not include this year’s assignments. Also keep in mind that an official cannot work a playoff game in his rookie year, so it is not counted as having missed the playoffs. Boger also was ineligible the first year he was at the referee position, and that is not counted, either.)

Also, from some of the same sources, Terry McAulay and Bill Leavy scored just below Jerome Boger, and they are likely to head the crews of the two conference title games.

In order to qualify for a Super Bowl position, not only must you be the top in your position, but you have other prerequisites that have to be met, which we will detail in a bit. But suffice to say, a Super Bowl official is one that consistently demonstrates his worthiness for the big game every year. 

Previous coverage

Playoff officials won’t be best officials. Source: Jerome Boger to be Super Bowl referee (Dec. 30)
NFL denies playoff assignments set (Dec. 31)
Officials frozen out of playoffs learn fate (Jan. 5)

One of the officiating sources told me that at least two of these seven rumored Super Bowl officials failed written rules tests last year. We analyzed the assignments from last season, and found that three of those officials did not work in the postseason last year. Boger was one of a handful of officials who did not get an on-field or alternate assignment. Darrell Jenkins, who was on Bill Leavy’s crew, did not get an assignment, despite the fact that Leavy’s crew was assigned to the Giants-Packers divisional playoff game. Likewise, Jenkins did not have an alternate assignment, either. Steve Stelljes worked in the Pro Bowl, which is technically not a postseason game and there are no restrictive criteria for getting that assignment.

In fairness, the difference between officials who get a postseason assignment and those that do not can be very close. But a cut line has to exist somewhere, so the official graded below 10th or 11th place is in the same group as those who finished 17th.

However, it is unusual that three crew members did not qualify for the postseason in 2011, and are graded at the top of their peers in 2012. (It has only happened in the Super Bowls following the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2009 seasons since the 12-team/11-game playoff format started in 1990.) Equally confusing is that at least three officials from last year’s conference championships (top 3) suddenly graded so low that they did not get an assignment. One of those officials who did not get a playoff nod was Ed Hochuli, who qualified for a playoff game every year he was eligible since 1991, with the exception of 2005 (and now this season). Hochuli is working the Pro Bowl this year, a game he has never worked in his esteemed 23-year career, because he kept getting playoff assignments instead.

Jerome Boger conducts the coin toss at a Week 5, 2012 game in San Francisco between the Bills and 49ers.
Jerome Boger conducts the coin toss at a Week 5, 2012 game in San Francisco between the Bills and 49ers.

Key prerequisite for assignment not met. In addition to being the highest graded official of the season (which takes into account other factors, such as decisiveness, pacing of the game, and professionalism), a Super Bowl referee must meet additional criteria, according to the league office.

  • five years’ experience
  • worked a conference championship in any position
  • three years’ experience as a referee
  • officiated a playoff game as a referee

For a moment, picture a game where coaches Rex Ryan and Norv Turner lead the Jets and Chargers into battle for the right to advance to the AFC title game. It may seem far-fetched scenario this season, but such a meeting happened in the 2009 divisional playoffs, and up until this coming weekend, it is the last time Boger officiated a playoff game. Boger’s playoff game previous to the Jets-Chargers game seems even more implausible: a Jaguars away game against the Patriots in 2007.

In Boger’s case, he has not officiated a conference championship, and thus cannot be included unless the league relaxes the bar of entry. Signora, the league spokesman, assured me, “There is no change to the Super Bowl assignment system.”

The rest of the officials. Other officials that are not at the referee position also need five years’ experience and a conference championship game. But those officials are allowed to substitute under a 3-of-5 provision: a wild card or divisional game in three of the last five seasons, according to Signora. That provision comes in handy for two of the officials.

Darrell Jenkins (Tony Gonzales/Oakland Raiders)
Umpire Darrell Jenkins observes as Saints quarterback Drew Brees is sacked.

Jenkins, the rumored umpire, will just get in, having two divisional round games and a wild card in the last five years. Joe Larrew, at side judge, also has 3-of-5, going back to the 2007 season; prior to 2007, Larrew never made the playoffs in the four seasons he was eligible.

Stelljes, the head linesman, has also missed two playoff appearances in the past five years, but he managed to get a conference championship assignment in 2007.

The remaining officials believed to have a Super Bowl assignment have more solid credentials: Back judge Dino Paganelli — offspring of an officiating pedigree that has his two brothers, Carl and Perry, in the NFL — missed only his first year of eligibility. He worked a conference championship game in 2010, and this will be his fifth postseason in a row. Field judge Craig Wrolstad worked a conference championship game last year, and is on a string of six consecutive postseasons.

Line judge Byron Boston seems to have racked up enough experience to share with the others: a staggering seven conference championship games and the only member of this supposed crew to have already worked a Super Bowl (XXXIV, after the 1999 season). In two of his seasons, he pulled down double assignments, which happens frequently for a Super Bowl official, but is extraordinary rare in a non-Super Bowl season. Boger has missed as many postseason assignments in nine years as Boston has in 18.

All working divisional round. As it is commonplace to have a Super Bowl official working in rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, all the officials that are rumored for the Super Bowl are working in the divisional playoffs.

  • Boger, Jenkins, and Paganelli will be at the Packers-49ers game
  • Boston and Wrolstad will be at the Seahawks-Falcons game.
  • Stelljes and Larrew finish the weekend at Texans-Patriots.

If there is an issue in one of the games, the NFL reserves the right to make a substitution before handing out the final assignments. Those finalized assignments will be announced early next week.

Correction: The original post did not reflect that Dino Paganelli worked a conference championship game.

Images: San Francisco 49ers photo; Tony Gonzales/Oakland Raiders.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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3 thoughts on “Super Bowl officials on field for divisionals?

  1. I get that you don’t think Boger is the best choice, but geez, could you find a less scary picture of him?

  2. Paganelli and Wrolstad are very deserving. Boston has a strong resume. Stejlles has been through the fire.

    Let me just say that I think there are other, stronger candidates at the other positions.

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