The NFL announced Thursday that it is forming a closer officiating relationship with select college conferences to improve “the officiating pipeline.”
The goal is to share NFL mechanics, technology and resources with college partners, expand recruiting opportunities, provide more opportunities for women and minorities and strengthen officials’ training.
The Big Ten, Conference USA, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) are the first college conferences to sign on as partners with NFL officiating.
Other college conferences could join the partnership at a later date.
Walt Anderson, senior vice president for officiating training and development for the NFL, commented that the goal is to improve officiating at all levels. “We look forward to increasing our collaboration with partner conferences and committing specific personnel to assist in fostering a more open and direct working relationship,” Anderson said in the announcement.
The new partnership will not impact the college officiating consortia that is illustrated in the graphic above. Big conferences partner with smaller conferences to form an officiating pipeline for individuals looking to move from Division III officiating to Division I officiating.
What is interesting is that while Conference USA and the Big Ten conferences are well known, the MEAC and SWAC are home to smaller schools whose games don’t usually show up on national telecasts. This partnership is a boon to the officials in those smaller conferences. They will get NFL attention, mentoring and training. When the Power Five college conferences need officials, the MEAC and SWAC zebras will be well positioned to move up.
This partnership also has long-term benefits for the NFL. If the NFL starts training officials at the small-college level, it will expand the recruiting base for pro football officials. A side judge in the SWAC that might not have gotten a look from the NFL, will now have NFL mentoring and a scouting file that Anderson can review when it is time to invite more officials into the NFL’s Officiating Development Program (ODP).
Ten years ago, almost all major college football conferences had a current or retired NFL official as the supervisor of officials. In the past year or so, the pendulum has swung back to where college conference hire college officials to supervise their zebra herd.
Each of the four college conferences will keep their officiating supervisors. The NFL will not make college officiating rosters, grade or assign officials to college games.
It will be interesting to see if more college conferences follow suit and join this new partnership.