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5 things to look for as you zebra watch this season

5 thinks to look for as you zebra watch this season



It’s here. It’s time. As the games kick off today, here’s what I’m watching.

Will there be fewer administrative errors this year? There is a new protocol this season where the replay official or Dean Blandino can consult with the referee to correct any rules misapplication, missed down or timing error. NFL rules are complex–especially penalty enforcements and timing rules. Hopefully this arrangement will cut down on high-profile rules mistakes.

Will any player be ejected for two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls? In the offseason, the NFL stated that if any player is flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls they are automatically disqualified. This brings the NFL into line with the NCAA and high school rules codes. Officials do their best to keep players in the game, but the NFL wants to crack down on unsportsmanlike conduct. The front office has given NFL officials tools to enforce good sportsmanship. Will they use it?

How hard will it be to clean up the sideline? The NFL has had it with head and assistant coach on-field histrionics. This year, the only time the rules allow the head coach on the field is to call a time-out and to check on the welfare of a player. Assistant coaches are never allowed on the field, even during a dead ball period. Let’s see if there is a spike in unsportsmanlike conduct fouls called on coaches who cannot stay off the field.

Is this the last year of seven-man crews? The NFL has had a seven-man officiating crew for 38-years. This preseason, the league experimented with an eighth official–the middle judge. This is a brand new position. Will the NFL decide to add an eighth official? Will any existing officials become a middle judge? If the the NFL  adopts the middle judge that means there will 17 new hires in the off-season. 

Who will work Super Bowl LI? It’s a fun exercise every season. Fans predict their favorite’s teams record. I predict the officiating crew for the Super Bowl. Here is my crew:

  • Referee–Gene Steratore
  • Umpire–Dan Ferrell
  • Head Linesman–Jeff Bergman
  • Line Judge–Gary Arthur
  • Field Judge–Mike Weatherford
  • Side Judge–Rob Vernatchi
  • Back Judge–Terrance Miles

As referee Red Cashion used to say after every coin toss, “Gentlemen, let’s play football!”

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?"