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Football Zebras
AssignmentsPlayoff assignments are 17-week process

Playoff assignments are 17-week process

The NFL released its schedule Sunday night for the 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs. We are waiting this week for the assignments for the game officials.

During the season, every official is graded on every single play for the calls that they made. An incorrect call or a missed call is calculated in an overall average score of accuracy. Two years ago, a segment of NFL.com showed the process of evaluating a single play, which involved shuttling the tape 25 times for generic incompletion (video, beginning  at 2:10, and our coverage).

Officials are also graded on written tests of mock plays. The written tests and game accuracy are the objective criteria for ranking the officials.

Separately, each official and the crews as a whole are evaluated in other areas. In school, this was part of the “class participation” grade that changes a B+ into an A–. These subjective factors include the pace of the game (placing an emphasis on getting the right call without game-delaying conferences), professionalism, and decisiveness. Injuries, particularly late-season ones, can be a consideration as well.

The officiating department will then take all the evaluations to determine their playoff assignments under the following guidelines:

  • The top eight crews, or roughly half of the officiating staff, will be assigned a game in the wild card or divisional playoff rounds. Each game will also have two alternates assigned to enter the game in case of injury. Alternates are generally placed from crews that did not make the playoff cut.
  • Any officials who are in their rookie year with the league will be replaced with an official from another crew. Similarly, a head referee cannot officiate in his first year after promotion to the crew chief, but he is eligible to be an alternate for the playoffs.
  • Although unlikely, an official can be replaced on his regular crew if his regular season grade is too low.
  • The top three officials at each position will officiate the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. However, an official must have been selected to a playoff game in a previous season and have five seasons’ experience to qualify. In addition, for the Super Bowl he must have also officated a conference championship game.
  • Officials in the conference championship games do not serve on a wild card or divisional playoff crew. Those that are elevated to the conference championships are replaced on their regular season crew.
  • Super Bowl officials do not officiate in the conference championships, but they can work the first two rounds of the playoffs.
  • The league avoids assigning an official to consecutive Super Bowls.
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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)
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