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Assignment Controversy

Officials frozen out of playoffs learn fate




Clete Blakeman learned Friday he doesn’t have a playoff assignment

Although it won’t be until the middle of next week (at the earliest) that the Divisional Playoff assignments will be known, some officials have already been informed that their services will not be needed this postseason. While the message may be cold, it spares officials from sitting on pins and needles, and it allows officials to wind down their NFL duties and transition back to their offseason. The list includes many notable exclusions from the playoffs.

We have learned that these officials have now entered their offseason. We are reasonably certain that these officials do not have a postseason assignment — on field or as an alternate — but it is possible that some still might receive an alternate assignment.

The names on this list are officials that we have knowledge that they have been contacted by the league; none of the officials should be learning their fate here.

      Yr. Crew 2011 postseason Occupation
R 34 Clete Blakeman 5   Wild Card: CIN-HOU attorney
U 115 Tony Michalek 11 Boger Conf. Champ: BAL-NE social media strategist
FJ 82 Buddy Horton 14 Blakeman Wild Card: CIN-HOU water service worker
FJ 118 David Meslow 2 Anderson N/A (1st season) marketing manager
SJ 103 Jeff Lamberth 11 (swing) (injured) attorney
BJ 61 Keith Ferguson 13 Leavy Conf. Champ: BAL-NE sales
BJ 75 Rob Vernatchi 9 Morelli Divisional: HOU-BAL enforcement investigator

Update 1/8: Horton received a Pro Bowl assignment, although technically not a postseason game.

A couple of names drew a surprised reaction from us.

Blakeman has had a strong season, for certain, so his presence on this list is quite shocking. We did note that his crew had some difficulties in the 49ers-Rams tie game, but it wasn’t enough for one writer here to predict Blakeman had a  Conference-Championship–caliber season.

Michalek was also a puzzling omission. Coming off of a Conference Championship assignment last year, Michalek has continually shown his strengths as an umpire this season. As an example, when the Buccaneers attempted to use disconcerting acts (a difficult penalty to call), Michalek took charge by calling in the two linesmen and referee Jerome Boger to discuss the call.

While not getting assigned a playoff game is a professional disappointment (and possible embarrassment), an official doesn’t immediately have to equate no playoff game with his job being in danger. (This was not always the case.) It is very possible that that the official performed well above minimum standards, but there were a dozen officials who were better.

So, it will be a bittersweet time for these officials as they pack their gear away until August, and I’m sure that they are already making a plan to improve and get a post-season assignment for 2013.

Football writer Mark Schultz contributed to this report.

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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