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NFL discontinues officiating observer program




Modern communications makes position redundant

The NFL has discontinued its game observer program starting for the 2014 season.  Retired NFL officials usually filled these positions.  The eight game observers were informed that their services were no longer required after the 2013 season.

Don Carlsen is a former NFL side judge who retired after the 2012 season.  He served as a game observer last season.  “I will most miss my connection to the NFL and seeing old friends,” Carlsen commented.

NFL game observers served as a liaison at the game site between the officiating crew, media, network TV, game operations personnel, and team executives.  The observers helped keep the information flowing between all of those previously mentioned entities in the event of an emergency or some other unusual occurrence that might happen during the game. Last season, as was the case for many seasons preceding it, every NFL game had a representative of the officiating department on the press level of the stadium, either an observer or a supervisor.

A league source with knowledge of the decision told Football Zebras the position of the game observer was no longer needed. With the advent of modern, real-time, high-tech communications, the new ability of the game referee to talk directly to the officiating office while on the field, advanced security measures, and hotlines from NFL headquarters in New York to the TV production crew at each game site, the position of game observer was deemed redundant.

Over the years, many NFL officials who had recently retired, were hired as game observers and enjoyed having the observer job serve as a transition off of the field.  Now retired officials will find other ways to serve the NFL in retirement.

Image: Ben Austro/Football Zebras

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?"