A small scheduling quirk has caused a stir in what could be the showcase game of the 2018 NFL season.
Football Zebras noted last Tuesday that there was an unusual split crew assigned to the Monday night game. The other half of the split caused a ripple effect down the schedule to an afternoon crew that happened to be covering the Raiders-Cardinals game.
Why was this done? It is still not any clearer from the day we were first aware of the assignment. According to an officiating source, the Week 11 assignments were disseminated to the officials in mid-October, which is not unusual timing. A follow-up schedule was sent to update the flex games with the new kickoff times. The way the information was distributed to all officials, referee Clete Blakeman was assigned to the Monday night game, and any crew changes were highlighted, as is the standard practice. Jerome Boger also had changes highlighted on his line.
Our source also noted that the replay official and replay assistant were also highlighted, but worked with their regular referee, which could be characterized as a means to identify a “move” from a previous assignment. But typically, if Blakeman and Boger were moved, their names would be highlighted on the schedule.
Reporter Ed Werder cited a source that Blakeman, umpire Ramon George, and down judge Dana McKenzie were the ones moved off their original Sunday afternoon assignment, and not the four officials that were highlighted on the schedule.
According to a source, NFL referee Clete Blakeman and two of his crew were called in to work MNF #Chiefs at #Rams to replace Jerome Boger and two of his crew. So Blakeman, umpire Ramon George and down judge Dana McKenzie work mixed crew for NFL showcase game. No explanation yet.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) November 19, 2018
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert confirmed Werder’s report, although our sources are stating this is not definitively the case.
Of course, the game was originally scheduled for Mexico City, but was moved to Los Angeles due to poor field conditions at Estadio Azteca. International games are typically nailed down early; London games, for instance, are usually handed out in preseason. Because of the logistics involved with those games, they are usually not subject to change unless absolutely necessary. Obviously, all assigned officials must have updated passports, and they would need extra lead time to ensure this is handled in advance.
There aren’t any reported injuries among any of the officials in question, so that is not a consideration. Occasionally, a veteran official or two has been moved to an international game, particularly if they have not had the opportunity before. The league office may also consider requests from officials that may not want to travel internationally, either because of a conflict with other work or a family concern. Factoring in that the altitude in Mexico City is significantly higher than Denver, there may be additional concerns that some officials are not medically cleared for that game.
Then, there is the possibility that performance-based criteria caused the split crew assignment. That is certainly possible for some, if not all, of the officials swapped. It cannot be discounted in the wake of the NFL’s firing of down judge Hugo Cruz last month.
Split crews do not happen often. The most recent occurrence was last season, also in Week 11, when Brad Allen and Gene Steratore divided their crews, and no reason was known either. Every week, there are some changes to allow swing officials (those not assigned to any crew) to work with various crews, in addition to the occasional swap of one or two officials between crews. Usually it is not a substantial number of officials.
So, officially, we do not have any reason for the change. It is possible that there can be multiple factors in play, including to get higher graded officials into this game.
Image: Tampa Bay Buccaneers photo