Football Zebras™

May 15 is the start of the NFL officiating calendar

The ritual has been constant year after year in the officiating world as the season calendar turns to page one on May 15.

The end of the offseason also officially ends the so-called “dark period,” a time frame that starts after the Super Bowl when the league doesn’t communicate with its officials. This is a provision in the collective bargaining agreement to allow officials to have uninterrupted time at their year-round jobs as a concession for the in-season inconveniences to their employers. This ritual appears to be reaching its end, as executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent has pushed hard on a plan to make officials year-round employees, despite the hurdles it presents. Multiple sources are saying that officials are bracing for a potential short-term phase-in of full-time officials starting with the 17 referees.

The ritual begins as the officiating staff will receive an e-mail with “Memo #1” from their new boss, Al Riveron, promoted last week to senior vice president of officiating. In addition to general housekeeping items, it serves as a notice that officials are prohibited from talking to the media unless authorized. It also lays out the plans for their “OTAs”: a mini-clinic held in New Jersey at the end of May and the regular clinic held in Dallas in July.

The memo will also be the formal introduction to new staff members — currently four have been announced, but there are as many as seven incoming officials.

Attached to Memo #1 will be the new rules and points of emphasis for the upcoming season with the first written test of the year showing a mastery of those rules in complicated game situations. The full rulebook is not finished being edited, as there are language changes required for clarity, to make adjustments based on new rules, and to update all cross-references.

Officials will also receive their crew assignments for 2017 with any position changes noted. Unless something has completely slipped under our radar, the same crew chiefs from last season are returning, which means there are no promotions to the referee position for the second year in a row.

And so the journey begins: 265 days until Super Bowl LII kicks off in Minneapolis. Who will be making the calls that day?

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