The last business the NFL had with the USFL was March 15, 1990, when they issued a check for $3.76 to pay the judgement in its antitrust case plus interest. Now, its head of officiating is actively working with the officiating staff of the in-name-only successor to the defunct league.
The new USFL, just like the recent Alliance of American Football and the XFL, have relied on the rosters of the NFL’s development pool for their staffing. Officials who worked the spring leagues got extra grass time, and the NFL had access to game footage and was scouting potential recruits working a pro rules set. The difference is, with the AAF and the XFL, the NFL played a passive role, and now they are actively participating.
The NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson is in Birmingham, Ala., the USFL’s home base for the 2022 season, to conduct an officiating clinic with the USFL officiating staff. It is a chance for Anderson to address three dozen of their recruits at once. Also attending the clinic are officiating position supervisors Garth DeFelice, Doug Rosenbaum, and Rob Vernatchi — all former officials — and George Stewart, a former NFL assistant coach and a coordinator with the officiating department.
Three officiating sources have said that the NFL intends to hire 8 officials this offseason. There were previously 7 on-field officials who have retired, plus there were 2 additional retirements within the last week. Last season, the NFL had 2 swing officials (not assigned to the same crew every week); if the NFL sticks with 8 hires, they will have 1 swing official in 2022.
There are strong indicators that most or all of the 8 officials will come from the USFL rosters, and that at least one woman is considered to be hired, which would be the third woman on-field in the NFL. (The USFL has 4 women on its 35-official roster.)
Steve Strimling is the coordinator of officiating for the USFL and a Pac-12 referee. He said that the NFL offered also offered virtual training in the offseason to the USFL officials and will continue through the year. “They’re helping with the pro rules and mechanics,” Strimling said. The NFL will offer their “evaluation of calls and the standards of fouls. But, we will be doing our own [grading] evaluations.”
The USFL will share access of its film (including angles not broadcast) and their grading comments on all the calls with the NFL. In return, the NFL will share its “all-29” video system with the USFL, a high-definition camera system that captures a 40-yard zone of the field that extends beyond the angles in typical coach’s films. The all-29 is so named as it captures the 22 players and the 7 officials. Additionally, NFL officiating representatives will be present at each game for scouting and to attend pregame and postgame meetings.
“This is a great relationship that works for all,” Strimling said. He added that the NFL’s investment was not monetary, but still valuable to the USFL.
“This is not solely an audition for the NFL,” he said.