According to an ESPN report, the NFL will offer a retirement incentive to 22-officials with 20 or more years of experience, provided they retire before the start of the 2020 season.
While we don’t expect every official to take the retirement incentive, the upcoming offseason could see the biggest exodus of officials in six years, when a whopping 14 officials voluntarily retired, or took a seperation buyout.
Potential for another big exit
In the past two years, the NFL has lost seven referees to retirement and four non-referees left the field. One official was terminated by the league in the middle of last season.
It is understandable why the NFL wants to move older officials out the door and hire new ones. First of all, there are a whopping 42 college officials in the Officiating Development Program (ODP). These officials have been training and waiting for a position to open up on the NFL roster. The NFL likes to hire an official in their 40s, so the clock is ticking for some in the ODP. The NFL has invested in these officials and wants that investment to pay off.
Secondly, newer officials are in a lower salary bracket and it costs the NFL less to pay its zebra herd.
Finally, new officials are hired on a three-year probationary period. A new official, without security as a tenured, respected veteran, will be more pliable to the NFL regarding mechanics, style, signaling and rule changes. A renegade or rebel probationary employee rarely lasts in any business.
On the other hand, any veteran official will say that it takes a good five years for a new offical to finally get the feel of the pro game, learn its nuances and feel confident in their abilities. After every large roster turnover, there are a few years of controversies that can attributed to officiating inexperience. Does Al Riveron want that headache?
Also, a mass exodus next year, means another mass exodus in 20 – 25 years as the young officials of today age out. It can turn into a vicious cycle.
Other CBA odds and ends
According to the ESPN article, look for officiating trainers to return. For several years, retired officials served as trainers specializing at a specific position. For instance, Jerry Markbreit and the late Red Cashion trained and mentored referes. Ben Montgomery mentored line of scrimmage officials. At its height, there were nine officiating mentors – now there are two.
The NFL Referees Association wanted the mentoring program to return to help with an official’s professional development. The mentors will not grade film. The mentor is there to share confidential counsel to officials to help them improve. It’s a shame that this program withered on the vine; however it is back and can only help the predicted influx of new officials.
To coordinate the mentoring and professional development program, the NFL front office will create a new vice president position dedicated to training programs.
Return of full time officials?
The new CBA allows for the return of full-time officials, if the NFL wants it. The union didn’t object. Full-time officiating was a major road block in the bitter 2012 labor dispute.
The NFL got full-time officials, but honestly, the idea fizzled out and was suspended for this year. Frankly, there aren’t enough games and activities for a full-time official to do that makes it economically worth the league’s time. If the NFL builds a better full-time officials mouse trap, it could return.
A new union contract almost always signals changes and the next 10 months will see many changes in NFL officiating.
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