Executive vice president of Football Operations Troy Vincent said he expects the NFL to implement a larger officiating crew and to hire full-time officials for the 2017 season.
In comments reported by the Associated Press, Vincent said “this is a topic of discussion daily,” and plans to add an eighth official to each crew. On each of the 17 crews, the addition of one more official would be filled by new hires and possibly from current swing officials, an overflow bench of officials rotated into crews and substituting for injured officials. Vincent added that the league intends to have 17 full-time officials for 2017 as well, which neatly fits in with the number of expanded on-field positions.
Vincent, the second in command to the commissioner, contends that 17 full-time hires are the maximum permitted under the officials’ 2012 collective bargaining agreement, but the AP notes that the league will still have to consult with the NFL Referees’ Association.
The eighth field position would likely be the middle judge, which was trialed in the last two preseasons. The Competition Committee is scheduled to meet at the NFL Combine in February to discuss the information gathered from the trials. The ownership would then need to approve the crew increase at their March meeting, which we have noted would necessitate a fast-track implementation for 2017. A staffing increase is thought to be imminent, as (1) the number of swing officials is consistent with other staffing increases needed before expansion teams were added, and (2) the size of the officiating development pool expanded significantly this season.
Requests for comment from the union were not answered.
Like so many things, the devil is in the details and we have yet to hear from the league on those details. We look forward to meeting with them to discuss numerous issues, this being one of them.
We agreed in the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement that we did not oppose using some full-time officials under certain circumstances including equitable compensation, benefits, clearly documented work duties, employee protections, etc. Details such as these should be discussed in the offseason.
Adding 17 full-time officials is a curious move by Vincent, and is not a done deal by far. Previous attempts to transition current officials to full-time status were to have them be league-office employees, and thus outside of the officiating union’s jurisdiction. An attempt to have three officials become full-time in 2014, with the intention to expand to one at each position, fell apart; Carl Johnson was made a full-time official in 2013 when he returned to the field after serving as vice president of officiating. Since Johnson was already a league-office employee, everything from a human-resources standpoint matched his executive tenure. Football Zebras has learned that Johnson is no longer a full-time official.
With the false starts in implementing full-time officials, this does seem that the 17 new hires will, in fact, be the presumptive 17 full-time officials. And it shows that Vincent is caving to popular opinion that full-time officials would be better officials, even though Dean Blandino, the senior vice president of officiating, said this is no guarantee that officiating would improve, or even maintain current levels. A case can be made that 2017 could see a decline in the officiating talent. For one, a new field position would be phased in with the associated growing pains and the new mechanics incubated in only a handful of preseason games. Also, the new hires would be from a narrower pool of college officials willing to leave their college position and their outside career with no protection under a collective bargaining agreement. This leaves numerous highly qualified individuals behind.
By taking officials out of the union’s hands, Vincent would then be free to levy suspensions for in-game infractions, even though it doesn’t improve officiating. The most recent case involved a suspension that wasn’t called a suspension (and was paid) presumably to end-around the union, as we pointed out last year:
While putting his personal imprint on Football Operations, two sources tell Football Zebras that Vincent was responsible for the decision to suspend Vernatchi. While fines are assessed for rare errors in game administration, Vernatchi’s offense was worthy of a suspension in Vincent’s opinion. This does not mean that errors should not face repercussions, but it is hard to see how suspending an official improves officiating. It is, in the words of former referee Scott Green, “arbitrary punishment of an individual for a fast public-relations fix.”
The push for 17 full-time officials will certainly give incoming union executive director Scott Green a full-on battle with the league’s executive suite.
Image: Ben Liebenberg/NFL