As Labor Day weekend approaches, the developmental officials that comprised the NFL’s “taxi squad” are headed back to their college conferences for the start of the college football season.
It is officially known as the advanced training program, the NFL initiative that brought 21 officials from the major college conferences to work in an apprenticeship-style program through training camps to preseason games. The program was a wrangling point in last year’s collective bargaining with the referee’s union: the NFL proposal, as summarized in public statements at the time, was to have a bench of 21 journeyman officials, essentially three crews’ worth of reserves. This gave the opportunity, as the league stated, to hold the veteran officials accountable, for they could be replaced either permanently or temporarily in the middle of the season.
As the hammer of negotiations made the proposal more malleable, the result was the advanced training program: the 21 officials would be non-union hires that would get limited practical experience. The league would not have its bench of reservists, which would mean that the participants would be best served to remain in their college conferences rather than standing idle for a whole year.
“The league really did not have a comprehensive plan as to how this program was going to work once the negotiations ended,” one officiating source told Football Zebras. Adding to the situation was a change in the leadership of the department. Dean Blandino was hired as vice president of officiating in February, four months after the collective bargaining agreement was signed, and one month prior to contacting the recruits accepted in the program.
The league declined a Football Zebras request in March for details on the program: “Consistent with past practice for those under consideration for positions as NFL game officials, we will not be releasing the list of names of participants in this program. Should they officiate in preseason games, then of course their names would be included in the game books as is standard.” When asked if we could attend a training clinic as an observer, the league said, “there is no media coverage of officiating clinics.”
The officiating source told us that he believed the NFL was paying all or part of the advanced training participants’ college conference salaries in exchange for the inconvenience on the conferences.
A second source who has worked with a development official said the program was to culminate with a trial of six quarters of preseason games. The source said this official was “working the whole game [in preseason week 2], the second half of [the week 3] game, and after that back to the college conference. Then, [the development officials] either move up, stay in the program, or are let go,” which the source presumed to mean after the college season ends.
There are indications that the development officials might shadow NFL crews in December and the playoffs once the college football season has ended. There is no indication that there will be any on-field assignment, however.
Football Zebras has compiled a list of the advanced training program participants. The recruits were issued uniform numbers sequentially from 136 based on alphabetical order. There are no gaps or jumps in that sequence. Note that most scorekeepers did not list the split assignments in the third preseason week, but we believe that all development officials did work the second half of the Week 3 game. Conferences are based upon Football Zebras best determination.
|Conference||Week 2 crew||Week 3 crew|
|BJ||136||Brad Allen||ACC||GB-STL (Carey)|
|SJ||137||Ed Bonet||ACC||SF-KC (Anderson)|
|LJ||138||Kevin Codey||Big East/AAC||PIT-WAS (Leavy)|
|HL||139||Hugo Cruz||Conference USA||TEN-CIN (Green)||CLE-IND (Corrente)|
|FJ||140||Brad Freeman||SEC||TB-NE (Triplette)|
|SJ||141||Eugene Hall||Big 12||OAK-NO (Boger)|
|BJ||142||Shawn Hochuli||Pac-12||IND-NYG (Hochuli)|
|BJ||143||John Jenkins||Pac-12||DAL-AZ (Blakeman)|
|SJ||144||Alex Kemp||Big Ten||ATL-BAL (McAulay)||NO-HOU (Anderson)|
|LJ||145||Clay Martin||Conference USA||ATL-BAL (McAulay)||BUF-WAS (Coleman)|
|BJ||146||Rich Martinez||SEC||TEN-CIN (Green)|
|U||147||Bryan Neale||Big Ten||PIT-WAS (Leavy)||CLE-IND (Corrente)|
|SJ||148||Scott Novak||CFO West conferences||JAX-NYJ (Winter)|
|FJ||149||Steve Patrick||SEC||SD-CHI (Vinovich)|
|U||150||Mark Pellis||Big East/AAC||SF-KC (Anderson)||NO-HOU (Anderson)|
|FJ||151||Clay Reynard||Pac-12||MIN-BUF (Corrente)|
|U||152||Brent Sowell||SEC||MIN-BUF (Corrente)|
|LJ||153||Sarah Thomas||Conference USA, UFL||OAK-NO (Boger)|
|HL||154||Pat Turner||Pac-12||SD-CHI (Vinovich)|
|HL||155||Ed Walker||Pac-12||DAL-AZ (Blakeman)|
|FJ||156||Jabir Walker||SEC||GB-STL (Carey)|
Image: Head linesman Hugo Cruz wrestles for control. (Houston Texans photo)