It has been talked about for some time, with speculation and reports ramping up over the course of this offseason, but the NFL announced yesterday that they are going to hire up to 24 full-time officials, beginning with the 2017 season. While that is not a full complement of full-time officials for every game, it is significant headway in that direction.
I wrote back in December that Troy Vincent believed the league would hire full-time officials for the 2017 season, saying at the time that it could be up to 17. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is decisively on the record as being in favor of the employment of full-time officials.
Those who have wanted to see the NFL take this step for some time are evidently getting their wish, or at least the first step in their wish, with yesterday’s announcement, which says that they are going to hire up to 24 full-time officials from the current roster of 124 officials that are a part of the NFL Referees Association.
“We believe this is a great development for NFL officiating overall and ultimately the quality of our game”, Vincent said in an official press release. “We share a common goal, which is to make our game as great as it can possibly be, and look forward to working together on this new effort”.
The release also notes that the power to do this was included in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, and “is a collaborative initiative intended to promote the common goal of enhancing all aspects of NFL officiating – scouting, training and mentoring, better understanding of current game trends, game preparation, and increased input on rules relating to player safety and game administration”.
The full-time officials will be hired at all officiating positions on the field, and will be mixed among all 17 separate officiating teams. “They will work collaboratively with their assigned crews, the league officiating staff and the NFL’s football-related committees during the offseason”.
The plan is to use the 2017 as an experimental period, something of a feeling-out process to figure out how best to utilize the time of these new full-time officials. Currently, officials generally have other, and better, jobs.
That has never struck me as the most sensible way for the NFL to do business, and certainly wouldn’t appear to be in the best interests of insuring the best possible product on the field. While others, including Mike Pereira, have argued that there will be little for full-time officials to do, I can think of plenty of things for them to work on.
Scott Green, the executive director of the NFLRA, said that “NFL officials are always looking to improve, and we believe that additional time, particularly in the offseason, will be positive”. Hopefully this is a first step toward having all, or at least the majority, of officials employed by the league on a full-time basis.