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Playoff assignments a stressful time



Officials used to worry about job security around playoffs

When the regular season is over, the NFL officials wait to see whether they pack their gear away after Week 17 or if they will be awarded a playoff assignment.  The NFL officiating department has several criteria on how they grade officials and the top performers during the regular season get a playoff game. 

Jerry Seeman, officiating supervisor from 1991-2001, is alleged to use playoff assignments as a determining factor for an officials’ continued employment.

There are several nervous days for each official after the last regular season game as they await news of a playoff assignment.  In a published interview with Referee Magazine, two-time Super Bowl official and current replay official Dale Hamer described being relieved when he got a playoff assignment because it meant that he had a good year and would be back on the staff for next year.  He said sometimes it was preferable to be assigned a wild card round game, because those assignments came out first and it reduced the stressful waiting.

In the past, some supervisors used qualifying for a playoff game as a determining factor in whether or not an official was retained for the following season.  In his book Offsides!, former referee Fred Wyant recounts a conversation he had with NFL officials’ supervisor Jerry Seeman, where Seeman stated that if Wyant didn’t qualify for a playoff game in the upcoming season then he would lose his job with the league.  Former side judge Jon Bible in a published article from the June 2005 issue of Referee Magazine recounts that Seeman also gave him the same ultimatum.  Further, Wyant states that back in those days, 10% of an official’s grade was subjective based on the supervisor’s opinion.  Wyant alleged that the grades between officials were so close that often the supervisor’s 10% subjective grade was the determining factor between an official getting the Super Bowl — or being fired from the league.  In both cases, Wyant and Bible failed to receive a playoff assignment and Seeman terminated both men.

Fortunately, the “playoffs or else” policy in not in effect anymore, but officials are expected to meet minimum grade standards for continued employment.  When Mike Pereira was the NFL vice president of officiating, he said that if an official failed to meet minimum standards for two seasons he would be terminated.  So, an official could make minimum standards, but still fail to receive a playoff game.  We don’t know if this policy has continued with the recent collective bargaining agreement.

Officials are very proud men.  They drive themselves to be the best at their position.  Waiting for a playoff assignment is a gut-wrenching time.  Getting a playoff assignment is not only a feather in an official’s cap; it is acclamation of a successful year.

(Image: National Association of Sports Officials

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"