The NFL took the rare step of suspending an official for an error in game mechanics, a source has told Pro Football Talk and a separate source has confirmed with Football Zebras. (PFT reports the suspension is with pay; we have not verified that aspect.)
Following a kickoff in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter on Monday night, the game clock rolled off 18 seconds before stopping between downs. Among Vernatchi’s duties as side judge is to monitor the game clock. Even though Vernatchi did not see the running clock, as the ball was being made ready for play and substitutions were being monitored, he should have noticed the discrepancy. Since the kickoff was a touchback, the time on the clock should have been the same as it was for the kickoff.
As reported on Tuesday, the league stated it was evaluating the officiating crew and the game-clock operator as part of the usual midweek review of all games. The loss of game time is particularly mentioned in the officiating duties as an egregious error.
Officials are graded on the accuracy of their calls through the year, which are used for determining playoff assignments. Disciplinary measures against officials beyond grades do not occur frequently. However, omissions in standard mechanics or misapplication of rules (as opposed to judgement calls) have been subject to fines ranging from half to an entire game check, especially if it has a profound effect on the game. Football Zebras is aware of seven incidents of officials being suspended for game-day incidents with two of those suspensions involving non-football-related issues.
Vice-president of officiating Dean Blandino has clearly put his staff on notice for errors in officiating. Regardless of whether the league should or should not suspend officials for mechanics, this is an unprecedented elevation of consequences for the staff of 122 officials, and it will be interesting to see how this squares with the officials’ collective bargaining agreement with the league.
Football Zebras is seeking comment from a league spokesman and from the officials’ union. Vernatchi is prohibited from talking to the media by the terms of the CBA.