The NFL has backed away from its full-time officiating program, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.
Citing multiple sources, Seifert says that negotiations between the league and the NFL Referees Association have broken down over the full-time arrangement. The full-time program was approved on an ad-hoc basis in 2017 and 2018.
The full-time officials are more accurately described as year-round officials as there is little additional work that could be done during the season. All officials easily surpass 40 hours a week during the season, despite having outside employment as well. Longstanding practice, which is contained in the collective bargaining agreement, is officials go into a dark period of no contact from the end of the playoffs through May 15; full-time officials, under the ad-hoc arrangement, are permitted to be contacted and do officiating department business during the dark period. When addressing the media during training camps last year, referee Brad Allen told Football Zebras, “The full-time officials were involved in some meetings of the Competition Committee; there was also a safety summit that was held earlier in May that the full-time officials were involved in.”
The league pushed for full-time officials during the contentious labor impasse in 2012. Both sides agreed to explore it further in order to end the officiating work stoppage three weeks into the season, but a framework for full-time officials was not contained in the CBA. In 2013, the NFL transitioned former vice-president of officiating Carl Johnson back to the field as a full-time official, retaining his status as a front-office employee; the league reached an agreement in principle with three other officials to become full-time that season, but the union would not sign off on the parameters of their employment. Johnson returned to regular employment status at some point in the next two seasons.
In 2016, NFLRA executive director Scott Green said that the union was continuing a measured approach to full-timers. “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.”
He added, “Like so many things, the devil is in the details.”
The NFLRA and the NFL agreed to 21 full-time officials under the year-round model in 2017, and 24 full-timers in 2018. Those that were appointed in 2018 functionally ended their full-time stint last May 15, and earlier for retired full-time referees Pete Morelli and John Parry. The appointments were for one season only. Sources have told Football Zebras that the full-time gig was sought by many because it was more money for an incremental amount of extra duties. “It’s easy money,” one officiating source admitted. The league had to turn some officials down who requested full-time.
Full-time officials were allowed to retain outside employment as well, but they had to agree that the NFL would have priority in any additional duties that were assigned.
The league and the union are in the final season of the CBA. and the full-time issue is expected to be part of the negotiations once again. Executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent has been bullish on converting the officiating staff to full-time, as has Saints coach Sean Payton, a member of the influential NFL Competition Committee. Barring some arrangement in the coming weeks, the full-time issue will go dormant following the 2019 season — until the labor negotiations heat up.