One of the most baffling things about the NFL to me has been its systematic undervaluing of the function of officiating in its game. You never want the officials to be the story after a game, but it happens often enough that rules almost every offseason it seems get passes that seek to take some power away from them or that directly address one of their mistakes.
In spite of the criticism of the quality of officiating, the NFL has largely done little to address this. While they recently began allowing a select number of officials to be full-time employees, the majority of them remained employed on a part-time basis, meaning that that literally have other jobs in the offseason. And some of their most prominent and respected officials have retired from their part-time job in recent years.
At least for the time being, the NFL’s employment of a select number of full-time officials has come to an end, however. Kevin Seifert writes for ESPN that the league has suspended the full-time status of those officials holding that designation, which seems a transparent negotiating tactic.
Because, you see, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association (yet, it’s a real thing; remember when they had replacement officials a few years ago?) are currently in a dispute with their own Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in March, a year earlier than the one between the NFL and the NFLPA.
While the NFL is currently playing nice with the NFLPA and reportedly wants to try to work out a new CBA early, by the start of the 2019 season, to avoid any issues relating to the league’s 100th anniversary, they are clearly not taking the same approach with the officiating.
Granted, the players are more significant than the officials, but the referees obviously play a vital role as well, as we saw with the replacement referees, who were clearly even more inconsistent than the ones who were a part of the NFLRA.
Only about 20 percent of the game’s officials were ever a part of the full-time employment, though I do recall reading that there was some intention to expand the pool even further in the future. Presumably, the full-time status of these officials will be reinstated once the negotiations eventually get worked out.
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk points out, it’s an interesting time to do this now with sports betting now having become legal, making the implications of every officiating call even greater. A wrong call could even draw a lawsuit and accusations of a fix.
Anybody who has followed my work long enough probably knows that I am entirely on-board with making all of the officials full-time and giving them as much training as they possible can. I’ve seen enough instances in which the officials don’t even know specific aspects of the rulebook and have to huddle up to figure it out—and sometimes still get it wrong.