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Assignment Controversy

Playoff officials won’t be best officials



Source: Jerome Boger to be Super Bowl referee

Hochuli, Steratore apparently shut out of postseason

In the first three weeks of the regular season, the NFL put an assorted group of officials on the field with questionable qualifications and tried to pass them off as professional caliber. That was a miserable failure. The league now wants to put otherwise unqualified officials in the Super Bowl, and thinks that no one will notice.

Jerome Boger conducts the coin toss at a Week 5, 2012 game in San Francisco between the Bills and 49ers.

Jerome Boger is scheduled to officiate Super Bowl XLVII, despite not being the highest ranked referee by our assessment. Referee Ed Hochuli and Gene Steratore will sit out of January and February football.  (San Francisco 49ers photo)

The standard has been, with a few additional criteria, that the highest ranking official in each position gets a Super Bowl assignment and runners-up go to the Conference Championship. Rankings are determined by evaluations of every single play and scores on written tests. Professionalism, maintaining the pace of the game, decisiveness, and physical fitness can also affect one’s ranking.

According to two former NFL officials, the league office intends on having Jerome Boger officiate Super Bowl XLVII. Boger’s season has not impressed even the casual fan this season. Just last week, Boger was pushed around, physically and figuratively, by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. He “misspoke” over the microphone, according to a post-game interview, and meant to assess Newton with a non-ejectable foul, rather than one he announced that is a certain ejection. If he is that indecisive and unable to assert himself, even if it means throwing a quarterback out of the game, how will he manage such a high profile game?

Boger is relatively inexperienced in postseason officiating, especially in the context of such a high profile assignment; in the six years he was eligible for the playoffs, Boger has worked only three games. To put Boger in charge of a Super Bowl crew would require the NFL to change their qualification criteria. NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora told me that is not the case:

There is no change to the Super Bowl assignment system.  In order for an official at any position to be eligible for the Super Bowl, he must have at least five years of NFL experience and either a conference championship game assignment or a playoff assignment in the Wild Card or Divisional round in three of the past five years.

If that “3-of-5” provision is unfamiliar to you, it’s because it’s not been openly discussed in past years, but we understand that provision has been in effect for all positions except the referee position. If that provision is extended to the “white hat” position, Boger still doesn’t qualify. In the past five postseasons, Boger has only worked on the field in the 2007 and 2009 Divisional Playoffs. (He also was assigned as an alternate in some of those off years.)

Merit system apparently discarded. To further bury the merit system used for postseason assignments, a former official said that there are officials on the Super Bowl roster who have failed written rules tests. Also, the supposed frontrunners will be sidelined for the playoffs.

“Ed Hochuli and Gene Steratore are not assigned to the playoffs,” an officiating source said. Hochuli has been assigned to the playoffs every year he’s been eligible since 1991, except for one. Steratore has been widely considered to be getting a Conference Championship game or Super Bowl assignment this season, based upon his on-field performance.

The assignments have not been released, and the NFL’s policy is to not release assignments for any game prior to day of kickoff. Officials generally learn of their assignment following their Week 17 game. It is unclear how the assignments were leaked to the current officials, as my sources declined to discuss that. They also acknowledge that the NFL could change some of the assignments.

Ray Anderson, the league’s outgoing executive vice president of football operations, apparently influenced the selection of postseason assignments. Carl Johnson, the vice president of officiating, will also be leaving at the end of the season. Typically, the assignments would be under the jurisdiction of Johnson, not Anderson.

One former official said the current officials he spoke with are not happy with the playoff assignment situation. He added, “the ones who work really hard and have very few ‘downgrades’ are being told, ‘You don’t get a playoff game’? That just doesn’t seem right to me.”

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)