The methodology of determining playoff assignments changed slightly when Dean Blandino was named vice president of officiating in 2013. It largely resembles the system previously in place. Rather than a straight 1-to-17 grade ranking, Blandino places the officials at each position into one of three tiers. Tier 1 is, for the lack of a better term, the championship level and Tier 3 are officials that do not get assignments.
The placement into a tier does have some basis in grades, but has the subjectivity to allow Blandino to consider intangibles, such as leadership, decisiveness, and managing the pace of game. “There are some things that I, as a supervisor, need to have the ability to look at for the overall picture of what makes a good official,” Blandino said in a 2013 interview.
The tiers generally align to the previous constructs of the assignment levels. For example, Tier 1 was a five-official group of the highest graded officials under the old system. Blandino could put four or six in that group depending on the qualifications he sees.
The procedure below is mostly re-posted from our reporting last year with some updated information. The league office confirmed to Football Zebras that the tier system is in effect for this year’s playoff, but did not elaborate on the minimum qualifications of playoff officials.
Playoff assignment procedure
First, to qualify for a playoff assignment, an official may not be in his first season and a referee may not be in his first season as referee for a playoff assignment. (This excludes 13 new members on the officiating staff and the two veterans who are first-year referees — Craig Wrolstad and Ronald Torbert.)
The Super Bowl assignment would be determined from the Tier 1 official. An official at each position in that tier that has not previously worked a Super Bowl will get first preference. However, if an official was graded at the top, and skipped over in this manner in the previous postseason, he will not be passed over again if he ranks first in the current season. The first preference must also meet other qualification factors.
For the referee, the minimum qualifications are as follows:
- 5 years of NFL experience
- 3 years as NFL referee
- 1 playoff game as a referee
For his crewmates, the minimum criteria are:
- 5 years of NFL experience
- 1 career conference championship game or 3 playoff games in the previous 5 years
Also, an official cannot work consecutive Super Bowls. Terry McAulay apparently graded first in the two previous postseasons, since he got his third Super Bowl last year, while other Tier 1 referees with no Super Bowl assignments were denied. McAulay cannot work this year’s Super Bowl. This left 13 of the 17 referees qualified as we began the 2014 season.
The remaining Tier 1 officials are distributed to the Conference Championship round and, if necessary, to Divisional Playoffs. Conference Championship officials must have three years of seniority and a prior playoff assignment.
The Super Bowl crew will get divisional playoff assignments, although they won’t all be on the same crew. The Tier 2 officials fill in the remaining divisionals and then the wild cards.
Tier 3 officials do not get a playoff assignment, although it appears that they may receive assignments as alternate officials. There are indications from a few sources that placement in Tier 3 can lead to additional training and possible dismissal from the league.