The NFL is giving four of its officials the chance to audition to be future referees, or white hats. Since there are so few opportunities for the NFL to see how prospective referees would handle the new position, these preseason tryouts are very important.
The NFL will assign the four officials to one preseason game where they will call all or part of the game from the referee position. Shawn Hochuli, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin, and Shawn Smith all auditioned for referee in the last two years and became white hats this year after unprecedented retirements.
An audition doesn’t guarantee that the official will some day become a referee. But, it does give a good sign of who the NFL thinks could be a future crew-chief.
To be considered for a referee, an official has to excel at their current position. The NFL wants a referee to put in 10-15 years at the position, so the window starts closing for candidates around age 55.
This year, Scott Novak, Brad Rodgers, Adrian Hill and Barry Anderson audition for referee.
Barry Anderson has been an umpire, side judge and a field judge since joining the NFL in 2007. He has collegiate experience at the referee position. He was seen and heard in the NFL Network’s SoundFX in 2013 when he issued a sideline warning on the Raiders bench when they encroached the sideline border during the game.
Anderson called six playoff games in his career – two as a deep wing and the rest at umpire.
After 11 seasons his opportunity to be a referee may be closing. After being passed over for four positions this season, I wonder how many more auditions he’ll have.
Anderson will work at crew chief in the fourth week of preseason.
Adrian Hill entered the NFL in 2010 from Conference USA where he was a crew chief. In 2007, Hill worked in the now-defunct NFL Europe league as a line judge.
Hill has worked as a line judge and as a field judge in the NFL. He didn’t receive any playoff games as a line judge but found his stride at field judge where he worked two playoff games.
He’s auditioned for referee three times. Since the NFL is giving him playoff games, he may be back in the mix for referee.
But, like Anderson, after being passed over several times for referee, his window may be closing.
Hill will head the crew in the Raiders-Rams game this week.
Scott Novak is entering his fifth season in the NFL, all as a side judge or field judge. He had a decorated career as a college referee in the Big 12 conference, calling many high profile games including, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the 2012 BCS Championship game.
In 2011, ESPN embedded a reporter with Novak’s Big 12 crew.
The NFL hired Novak in 2014 and he called his first playoff game the next year — his first season of eligibility — and has called a playoff game each season after that.
Quite frankly, I’m surprised this is the first time the NFL is auditioning Novak, outside of a one-quarter experiment in the 2015 preseason where crews simulated an injured referee situation. He had a decorated career in college and has proven himself by getting a playoff assignment each year eligible. If he shows the ability on the field and leadership skills off the field, look for him to don the white hat in the future.
Novak will have his audition in the Steelers-Packers game this week.
Brad Rogers enters his second season as an NFL side judge. Previously he worked in the Southeastern Conference and Conference USA as a referee.
Rogers got his start officiating in high school football in Texas in 1991, and one of his high school crews featured officials who all eventually worked Division I college football.
Since he was a rookie last year, he wasn’t eligible for a playoff game and 2018 is the first time he can qualify for an NFL playoff game.
The NFL must be high on Rogers’ future at the white hat for a sophomore-season audition.
Look for Rogers to wear the white hat in the fourth week of preseason.
NFL needs to refill white hat pipeline
We must stress that officials getting a referee audition does not guarantee that Novak, Rogers, Anderson and Hill are the next full-time white hats.
And, we don’t know when the next referee opening will happen. Sometimes we go years with no referee openings. The longest dry spell I can remember is 1981-1987 when there were no changes at referee.
But, four referees this season have between 22 and 30 seasons of experience; so more retirements are looming. I’m sure the NFL will not want another four referee retirements again, but after this season, never say never.
There are more NFL officials who have collegiate experience at referee and I’m sure we’ll be getting more candidates for an audition in the future. Look for Don Willard, Land Clark and Alan Eck to get a look at white hat in the coming years.
There are only 17 referee positions. Not everyone can be a white hat. And, it is the one position that the NFL can’t make a mistake in assigning.