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NFL bullish on full-time and 8th official in 2017

Executive vice president of Football Operations Troy Vincent said he expects the NFL to implement a larger officiating crew and to hire full-time officials for the 2017 season.

In comments reported by the Associated Press, Vincent said “this is a topic of discussion daily,” and plans to add an eighth official to each crew. On each of the 17 crews, the addition of one more official would be filled by new hires and possibly from current swing officials, an overflow bench of officials rotated into crews and substituting for injured officials. Vincent added that the league intends to have 17 full-time officials for 2017 as well, which neatly fits in with the number of expanded on-field positions.

Vincent, the second in command to the commissioner, contends that 17 full-time hires are the maximum permitted under the officials’ 2012 collective bargaining agreement, but the AP notes that the league will still have to consult with the NFL Referees’ Association.

The eighth field position would likely be the middle judge, which was trialed in the last two preseasons. The Competition Committee is scheduled to meet at the NFL Combine in February to discuss the information gathered from the trials. The ownership would then need to approve the crew increase at their March meeting, which we have noted would necessitate  a fast-track implementation for 2017. A staffing increase is thought to be imminent, as (1) the number of swing officials is consistent with other staffing increases needed before expansion teams were added, and (2) the size of the officiating development pool expanded significantly this season.

Requests for comment from the union were not answered. Update 12/3: Incoming NFLRA executive director Scott Green issued a statement to

Like so many things, the devil is in the details and we have yet to hear from the league on those details. We look forward to meeting with them to discuss numerous issues, this being one of them.

We agreed in the 2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement that we did not oppose using some full-time officials under certain circumstances including equitable compensation, benefits, clearly documented work duties, employee protections, etc. Details such as these should be discussed in the offseason.

Adding 17 full-time officials is a curious move by Vincent, and is not a done deal by far. Previous attempts to transition current officials to full-time status were to have them be league-office employees, and thus outside of the officiating union’s  jurisdiction. An attempt to have three officials become full-time in 2014, with the intention to expand to one at each position, fell apart; Carl Johnson was made a full-time official in 2013 when he returned to the field after serving as vice president of officiating. Since Johnson was already a league-office employee, everything from a human-resources standpoint matched his executive tenure. Football Zebras has learned that Johnson is no longer a full-time official.

With the false starts in implementing full-time officials, this does seem that the 17 new hires will, in fact, be the presumptive 17 full-time officials. And it shows that Vincent is caving to popular opinion that full-time officials would be better officials, even though Dean Blandino, the senior vice president of officiating, said this is no guarantee that officiating would improve, or even maintain current levels. A case can be made that 2017 could see a decline in the officiating talent. For one, a new field position would be phased in with the associated growing pains and the new mechanics incubated in only a handful of preseason games. Also, the new hires would be from a narrower pool of college officials willing to leave their college position and their outside career with no protection under a collective bargaining agreement. This leaves numerous highly qualified individuals behind.  

By taking officials out of the union’s hands, Vincent would then be free to levy suspensions for in-game infractions,  even though it doesn’t improve officiating. The most recent case involved a suspension that wasn’t called a suspension (and was paid) presumably to end-around the union, as we pointed out last year:

While putting his personal imprint on Football Operations, two sources tell Football Zebras that Vincent was responsible for the decision to suspend Vernatchi. While fines are assessed for rare errors in game administration, Vernatchi’s offense was worthy of a suspension in Vincent’s opinion. This does not mean that errors should not face repercussions, but it is hard to see how suspending an official improves officiating. It is, in the words of former referee Scott Green, “arbitrary punishment of an individual for a fast public-relations fix.”

The push for 17 full-time officials will certainly give incoming union executive director Scott Green a full-on battle with the league’s executive suite.

Image: Ben Liebenberg/NFL

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Ben Austro
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)

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4 thoughts on “NFL bullish on full-time and 8th official in 2017

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL didn’t try to transition existing officials to the Middle Judge position (like when the league expanded from 6 to 7 man crews – which did not cause the world to end). I would not be surprised if the full time officials were NFL veterans who might be retired from their current job (or have a job with flexibility to be a full time official such as someone like Tony Steratore). These could be officials that NFL would like to groom for supervisory positions and as trainers for young officials at their previous position. Personally I think this would have been avoided had the NFL just taken the best of the best from the college ranks without worrying about age, skin, kin or sex organ. If an official is consistently his or her conference’s top assignments that is who the NFL should be targeting for open positions. With officiating, not everyone can make the transition, but you stand a better chance with officials who work the most competitive games than one who maybe gets a mediocre bowl assignment with two teams who have nothing to play for but pride and the six fans who care about the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

  2. Most likely another set of eyes seeing only what they want to, or are told to, see.

    The only way they will fix this is to have actual Professional Officials whose only or primary job is Football Officiating; even if they “share” time in the NCAA. They should also be using actual athletes who are 50 or younger. As one long time Pro official told me:

    At the High School level, the kids (you ref) are always 16-18. The college kids will always be 18-21.

    Old men (of which I am becoming) cannot keep up with the speed of the pro game, and it is more than obvious. So, either put more on the field, and utilize ‘video officiating’ for obvious blunders, or train them better and use officials that are much more effective.

    The current Go Old Boys Network of butt-kissers (plus a couple token females – sorry ladies, you are still only ornaments to the NFL) need to go. Every single one of them, top to bottom. I’d rather take my chances with motivated, well trained professional refs instead of part time, unprofessionally professional hacks who don’t care, are not held accountable, and justify their actions (or inactions) with “that’s just the game….”

  3. There are plenty of officials that have worked into their early 60’s and been excellent.

    Judge them all individually.

  4. KS & SL – age really doesn’t have anything to do with the ability to officiate. In today’s world, most everyone works out and keeps in decent shape, although some have put on a few pounds, but they make up for that with knowing what to call and when to call it. (#33 made a great call on Thanksgiving day on catch in EZ and he has a few extra(LBS for sure). I have to agree with SL, you can’t throw a blanket over everyone and they must be judged on merit individually. The issue is the judging and how its prejudiced by who ‘they like and want to succeed’ vs who they want to fail. In too many cases it comes down to not whether the call is correct but who threw the flag and it’s ruining the game. The system is making them all too technical where it’s not fun to watch the game because every other play there is a flag. Fans want to see the players play and the official officiate the obvious calls. While the idea of full time officials sounds good, it’s really not something that will make a difference. Most top level official spend more time on officiating then on their real jobs anyway, so making them full time is just something to satisfy the social media craze. It’s not like baseball or basketball or hockey where there are games to work 3 or 4 times a week. Full time is not going to change anything especially if they continue to hire the wrong people. Look at who this site put up on the article announcing the 17 new full time hires. Like she played the game of football and can work in the NFL!! Give me a break. I don’t know one fan who watches a game because a female is working the game. They watch because they are cheering for their team. Someone has to wake up and smell the roses! my two cents!

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