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NFL revamps playoff assignment system



Officials to be in dark about their overall grades


Jarrett Bell of USA Today is reporting on what appears to be a drastic shift in the procedures for playoff officiating assignments.  Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino tells Bell the officiating office will place less emphasis on the grading process:

We’ve tried to get the word “grading” out of our vocabulary. We felt that officials historically — not just in the NFL, but in any evaluation or grading system — sometimes tend to get so caught up in the grades, they lose sight of what we want them to say: “This is an incorrect call, and here’s what [I] can do better,” rather than, “I got a downgrade. Now I’m just worried about fighting that downgrade.”

That’s what we want to move away from and concentrate on teaching and training.

Originally, the criteria was the higher graded officials get the higher profile games, and the highest scoring officials (with other restrictive criteria applied) would be assigned the Super Bowl. Shortly before Mike Pereira left the league office as vice-president of officiating after the 2009 season, that criteria was quietly changed to “one of the top 5 officials,” with preference given to officials who had not been to the Super Bowl before.

That revised criteria was not publicly known until last season, when Football Zebras published a special report about the assignment for Super Bowl XLVII. Several officials, who remained anonymous because of fear of reprisals, stated that they felt the grading system was rigged to favor certain officials for that assignment. (Side note: Bell and I were both guests on ESPN’s Outside the Lines about the controversy.)

Only eight months removed from that controversy, the league office has again revised the procedure, adding more subjective criteria into the the equation and de-emphasizing the all-important objective criteria. What is unusual, is that it is the same criteria that is used by state high school associations and by college conferences to determine their playoff assignments is not being applied to the same extent at the highest level of officiating.

Image: Ben Liebenberg/NFL

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)