The NFL has decided to bring in a new executive whose sole function will be to coordinate the training and development of league referees. The move was part of the agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) in order to establish guidelines for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and the timing couldn’t be better.
There have already been a number of botched calls this season that could have been avoided if refs had been better prepared, but this is also where the problem lies with the new VP of training. He’s not actually going to be in charge of leading any training programs. In other words, fans and players shouldn’t expect major changes anytime soon.
The NFL and the NFLRA ratified their new CBA this past Saturday and the agreement will be in force for seven years. The NFL has been mum on the new assignment, but the NFLRA’s executive director, Scott Green, has acknowledged that the new position designed to improve officiating is in place.
Believe it or not, the NFL has a training program in place now. However, it only has two individuals currently, compared to nine that were involved just a few years ago. This explains a lot, given some of the more recent missed calls, or calls that shouldn’t have been made, in games from last season to this one. Revitalizing the program seems like a sure way to help keep the games in order and prevent refs from missing blatant open-field violations or accidentally running time off the clocks, but this more than likely won’t be the case.
According to Green, the new executive won’t be conducting any training. He also won’t be involved in grading refs and other officials. Instead, his job is to coddle the current pool of game officiators, with Green explaining, “It would be more of a mutual mentor-type relationship. They would be asking, ‘What can I help you get better at?’ That sort of thing.”
That’s right, the NFL is going to pay someone to ask a ref to identify where he needs help. As if a ref is going to step up and say that he knows he doesn’t understand what helmet-to-helmet contact is or what constitutes a quarterback fumble. When making bad calls, refs have routinely stood by their decisions, asserting that they either made the right call or that no foul had taken place. Many teams would – and have – argued against those assertions.
The league needs someone to come in and whip the officiating crews into shape. They need to be held more accountable for their actions. Everyone watched as the New Orleans Saints were denied a trip to the Super Bowl last year due to one flagrant miss of a pass-interference call that couldn’t have been more obvious. There have been plenty of similar actions already seen this year, and the NFL season has only completed four weeks of play.
At least the CBA does have a couple of positive stipulations. One is that the NFL can offer older officials a one-time incentive to retire. There are now 23 individuals on the officiating roster who have been in place for 20 or more years, representing about 20% of the staff, and it’s time that they move on. These would be eligible for a severance package if they were to choose to leave before the start of next season, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most players and fans are hoping they take advantage of the offer.
The other is that the league could relaunch its full-time officiating program next season. This was stopped before the start of the current season, and bringing it back would allow the NFL to designate about 20% of its officiating staff as full-time employees, which would allow for more training and evaluations. Both of these are desperately needed in the league.