The NFL’s fall owners meeting concluded in Houston, and there were a few interesting topics that involve the officials. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting to review the business that was conducted.
One particular item was what was omitted: there was no mention made to add an eighth official at this point. During the past two preseasons, NFL crews experimented with an eighth official, called the middle judge. Along with an expansion of the officiating development program and a staff of swing officials consistent with expansion years, all signs point to a staffing increase being inevitable. While such a change could be made at the owners meeting in March, the amount of time that goes into the hiring process and updating the new mechanics means that it is unlikely that the change will be made for the 2017 season.
Goodell addressed the possibility of a development league for the NFL. If such a league were in place it would be an ideal arena in which to train potential new officials or for the NFL to try out potential referees. The NFL Europe league played a similar in developing officials during its existence. The NFL instituting a development league is a real possibility, but it is four to five years away at the earliest, according to Goodell.
Goodell also spoke about the uptick in taunting fouls under the new rules and some perceived inconsistencies in applying the new rule:
The committee looks at this every year. I have been in the league 35 years. I don’t think there has been a year where we didn’t look at this issue. It comes down to balancing a lot of issues including the professional standards that we want to uphold. Our players are role models and others look at that at the youth level, so that’s important for us to hold that standard up, and it’s part of being professional. That’s one element of it. We have taunting, which is a significant issue. Taunting fouls are up this year. It’s probably a combination of making that a point of emphasis, but we look at that as sportsmanship. When somebody taunts someone else, somebody reacts. That can escalate quickly, so those are things that we’re really concerned about. We look at it closely. The committee balances those issues. I don’t think they are being officiated inconsistently. People may not like the rule. They might not like the line that’s been drawn, but we believe it’s part of being a professional league.