The NFL Needs Full-Time Officials

Jeff LittleSenior Writer IOctober 22, 2008

All of us football fans, on game day, take to our favorite chair in our living room, entertainment room, den, back room, basement, friend’s house, or local sports bar to watch football games.

There are constantly 29 men on the field, three teams if you will, the home team, the away team, and the crew of officials, until one of the men wearing a striped shirt warns the players on the sideline that they’re too close to the field of play and that they’ll need to stay back beyond the boundary to avoid a penalty.

Every team has a “get back” guy, a role played by some assistant coaches.
The guy giving the warning usually is the Side Judge; he is one of the striped shirts, the zebras, one of the seven other guys on the field or third team tasked with officiating the game.

The crew of officials consist of a Referee, Umpire, Head Linesman, Line Judge, Field Judge, Side Judge, and Back Judge. Each are tasked with watching a specific part of the field and sharing said ruling with the Referee.

In the specialized world of the NFL, the officials have a tough job to do and the crew is in the city of the upcoming game they’ll be working long before kickoff. The group discusses points of interest, infractions that they’re keying on for the game, long before it starts.

The crew of officials puts in a lot of time and effort into completing the task of officiating an NFL game every Sunday.
These guys are required to have a deep and thorough understanding of the rules, stay updated on rule changes, and be able to be calm, fair, and consistent while handling pressure situations in close contests.

Each member of the crew has had to go through a lot to reach this level of officiating.

Under Mike Pereira, the league's Vice President of Officiating, there is a standardized grading system and the crew is judged on their performance, which works towards being selected to officiate playoff games and the Super Bowl.

Every year, there are those four to 10 missed calls that we as fans will never forget or let the official that missed the call forget.

These guys have to deal with an inordinate amount of verbal abuse from the fans, during and after games. There are Web sites about how bad the officials are, which go into great detail about how a call was blown.

Sometimes, we as fans forget that the officials are human and that they’ll make mistakes like anyone else.

Ed Hochuli, an NFL official from 1990-present, was crucified for his game-deciding gaffe in the Denver vs. San Diego game, for example, and people were calling for his head, so to speak.

He admitted that he made a mistake, owned it, and showed the humility to answer e-mails from each and every pissed off Chargers fan.

Several of us can’t say that we would’ve done the same. Some have gone as far as stating that officiating a game is easy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The real outcry should be for the league to hire full-time officials. This isn’t the answer to the problems with officiating, but it would be a huge step in the right direction. NFL officials have day jobs and officiating games for them is, in a sense, a part-time job.

The NFL is a full-time job for the players, coaches, and front-office personnel and should be for officials as well.

The pay scale for league officials ranges from $25,000 to $70,000 per year. The average NFL official is paid $27,000 per year, a far contrast to the $128,000 an NBA official receives.

Granted, the NBA plays far more games than the NFL, and the NFL official works less, but this disparity is unbelievable and unfair.

NHL officials, on average, earn $139,000 annually; Major League Baseball officials, on average, earn $141,000 annually.

However, if you love the game, have a desire to be a part of the best football action that a game can offer you, then set out to make it happen and become a game official—despite being paid less than other professional sports leagues.

As a suggestion, it would make sense to me that the NFL hire officials on a full-time basis, raise their salary commensurate with officials of other leagues, and most importantly, make sure the officials are in prime physical shape, like the athletes they’re officiating by going through their own OTAs, minicamps, and training camps.

It might sound strange, but it would work. For an official, it is all about experience, and the year-round effort and practice would improve the officiating on game day.

A huge problem the officials face is that the speed of today’s game, at times, appears to be too fast for the striped shirts.

Today’s athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than previous years, which makes the game action faster. Some of the faster action is getting by the officials and calls are being missed.

Missed calls unfortunately will always be a part of the game, but full-time officials will go a long way to minimize this issue, and the officials can go back to not being a factor in deciding if a team wins or loses a game.