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Happy New Year: May 15 marks the start of the officiating season

May 15 marks the return of the NFL’s officials, and the start of the officiating season.



Pop the champagne and bust out the fireworks, as today, we ring in the new year. May 15 marks the first day of the NFL officials being “in season” following the offseason “dark period”, which begins after the Super Bowl. This period is provided to the officials as a way for them to devote more time to their other jobs, and is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFLRA.

Their first correspondence from the officiating triumvirate of senior vice president of training and development Walt Anderson, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron, and senior vice president of officiating administration Perry Fewell, known colloquially as “Memo #1,” although that will likely appear in inboxes Monday morning. The roster of officials will be welcomed back for a new season, and be briefed on the 6 new rules passed in April, as well as the 2 major points of emphasis. Traditionally, there is an open-book rules test, which generally focuses on the new rules. There also is expected to be a mention of a return to “business as usual”, especially regarding the staff-wide clinic that is held every July.

At this point in the offseason, only one new official has been revealed: the hiring of line judge Maia Chaka was announced in March. If this holds, it will be only the seventh time since 1950 the NFL did not hire more than one official; most recently this happened before the 2012 (lockout) and 2013 seasons when collectively there was 1 hire.

Also, only 3 officials [update: 6 officials] have been reported to be leaving the field at this point. We may see that number increase in the coming days and weeks. Five on-field officials who opted out of the 2020 season due to covid-19 concerns are eligible to return in 2021, and it is possible that some may choose not to return after the year-long layover. There will be no new referees this season, breaking a string of 8 new white hats in the last 3 seasons.

After such an anomaly of a season last year, it will be interesting to see even a sliver of normalcy return for the 2021 season, for the officials, the league, and the game.

Opted out of 2020 season

2020 does not count as a year of service in the Yrs column.

      Yrs College Occupation
LJ 32 Jeff Bergman 28 Robert Morris president and chief executive officer, medical services
FJ 80 Greg Gautreaux 18 SW Louisiana athletic programs manager
FJ 73 Joe Larrew 18 St Louis attorney

An additional two officials initially opted out of the 2020 season, but retired prior to the 2021 season.

Leaving the field

      Yrs College Occupation
U 71 Ruben Fowler 15 Huston-Tillotson retired firefighter
LJ 2 Bart Longson 6 Brigham Young finance
LJ 100 Tom Symonette 17 Florida certified public accountant, SIAC officiating coordinator
LJ 108 Gary Arthur 24 Wright State president, commercial printing company
BJ 133 Steve Freeman 19* Mississippi State custom home builder
BJ 112 Tony Steratore 20* California (Pa.) co-owner, supply company

*Opted out of the 2020 season and subsequently retired

New official

      ODP years Conference/League Notes
LJ 180 Maia Chaka 5† Pac-12 XFL and AAF line judge

Shown with position, most recent uniform number while in the Officiating Development Program, and number of years in the Program. †non-consecutive seasons in ODP.

Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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