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NFL and Canadian Football League announce officiating partnership




Officials from the NFL will get a chance to work Canadian Football League (CFL) games and vice-versa starting this summer, as part of a new agreement announced by both leagues this week, called the NFL-CFL Officiating Development Program.

This summer, NFL officials will work CFL preseason and early regular season games (the CFL season runs from June through the Grey Cup in November). In turn, CFL officials will get a chance to shadow NFL officials through mini-camps, preseason games and get the chance to be part of the NFL officiating development program.

There is a history of American football officials working in the CFL. In 1993, the CFL expanded into the United States, but the U.S. franchises folded after a few years. But, during that time, future NFL officials Bill Vinovich, Tony Michalek, Boris Cheek, Gary Cavaletto, and Doug Rosenbaum officiated in the CFL (h/t to posters on Behind the Football Stripes).

According to the news release, NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino says new officials need experience and the CFL will give them that experience.

“Any time our newer officials can get more reps on the field, during practices or games, that will make them better officials. The collaboration with the CFL will certainly benefit us as we prepare for the 2016 season and we look forward to welcoming our CFL officiating counterparts to our development program later this spring.”

The move is also welcomed north of the border.

“This historic partnership gives officials in both leagues an opportunity to hone their craft and get better through shared development activities and more snaps at the pro level,” said CFL Senior Vice-President, Football Glen Johnson. “We’re excited that a group of our officials will actively participate in the NFL Development Program and now have a formal path forward to be considered as prospects in their league.”

Ever since the demise of NFL Europe, prospective NFL officials have needed a place to audition for the a regular position on the NFL roster. They have needed to enforce pro rules, use pro mechanics, and quite simply, work more games at a post-college level to hone their craft and get used to the speed of the pro game. Blandino and the NFL feels that newer officials will benefit from their time in the CFL.

This will also be a boon for CFL officials. Canadian football officials will get the chance to work with NFL officials in the preseason. And, if I read the quote correctly, current CFL officials could be candidates for the NFL.

I am very interested to see how this will play out. How “true” will the collaboration be? Will American football officials eventually get a full time job in the CFL and will we see CFL officials eventually be hired by the NFL? Will there be any rivalries or resentments if CFL officials come in and become NFL officials and vice versa?

Also, how steep will the learning curve be between leagues? CFL football is a great game. But officiating NFL games compared to officiating CFL games will be like the difference between umpiring baseball and fast-pitch softball – the games look the same, but they are very different. If you want an example of rules differences, just look at the kicking game.

Starting May 15, the “dark period” will be over and the NFL will start announcing crew assignments and new hires. That will be the first time to see how this new arrangement will work.

Photo: Starting this summer, CFL officials will get the chance to work with their counterparts in the NFL.

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?"