Officiating 101: It’s time for the NFL to employ officials full time

By
Updated: January 11, 2013
NFL officials are the best in the business, but they could improve if they honed their craft full time.

NFL officials are the best in the business, but they could improve if they honed their craft full time.

Lagging behind

So it’s been a couple of weeks since you all failed miserably on the Officiating 101 pop quiz, so it’s time to present you all with another look inside officiating. This segment will focus on the employment statuses of NFL officials and whether or not improvements could be made to make officiating in the NFL even better.

Of all the four major sports leagues — NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA — the only league that does not offer its officials full-time salaried employment is the NFL. Finding information on the terms and compensation of major sports officials is difficult, as none of the leagues are required to publish such data. But generally I was able to find some reasonable statistics which will help put a few things into perspective:

  • The average yearly salary for an entry level NBA official is approximately $91,000. Elite level officials are known to make well over $550,000/yr. (Dick Bavetta, with nearly 38 years experience, would certainly be in this range.)
  • MLB umpires start around $120,000/yr, with senior umpires making around $300,000/yr.
  • NHL officials make roughly the same range of salaries as both the NBA and MLB, with linesman ranging from $95,000-$190,000/yr and referees ranging from $136,000-$290,000/yr.
  • In stark contrast, NFL officials make roughly between $25,000-$70,000/yr (or more specifically “season”), ´dependent on position and tenure.

It’s not known how many NFL officials would be willing to abandon their careers for full-time service, but certainly some would find the idea appealing.

Weekend warriors

NFL officials are offered seasonal contracts from year to year and are therefore part-time employees. Consequently nearly all NFL officials maintain alternate employment for the remainder of the year. For instance, head referee Ed Hochuli is a lawyer and partner in the law firm Head referee Mike Carey owns and operates his own business called , which is a privately held company that manufactures ski and snowboarding gloves, face protection, and other cold-weather accessories.

One would think that the NFL, an industry with a budget of $9 billion per year and a clear leader in popularity among the major sports, would have a much more structured and organized employment system for their officials.

Proponents of the current system essentially maintain two arguments: 1) The season isn’t long enough to warrant offering the officials full-time employment; and 2) Offering year-to-year contracts to officials allows the NFL to choose on an annual basis its officials, either retaining the best officials or releasing ones they believe to have performed poorly.

Another major hurdle in moving towards a system of full-time employment is the fact that most officials currently have other careers. How many of the current officials would be willing to give up their careers to officiate full time? Although it’s impossible to know for sure, one could make the assumption that many of the officials would not take the NFL’s offer, thereby depleting the talent pool of current officials. Remember how those replacement officials worked out?

Despite these obstacles, I’ve long held the belief that the NFL could and should offer its officials full-time employment status. The long-term benefits to not only officials themselves but also the game in general would be very positive.  Let’s explore this a bit further.

Doing it for the love of the game

Many current officials are themselves former athletes. Ed Hochuli and Mike Carey, for example, are former college football players. Many NFL referees continue to officiate not because the money is great, but because they have a general passion and love for the game. I can attest to this sentiment from my own officiating experiences, as I always found officiating a great way to stay involved and connected to a game that I simply no longer could play at an organized level. Therefore, if so many officials are currently officiating for this reason, would it seemed farfetched to believe many would reject officiating fulltime if that option were offered? Sure, no doubt some officials would elect to focus solely on their personal careers, but I believe most would jump at the chance to if they were compensated on par with officials from the other major sports.

Working full time, NFL official would be able to continually hone their craft. The current officials are certainly the best in the business, but with more time and effort, anyone can always get better at what they do. The two best pieces of advice I ever received were “be a sponge” (always soak up as much information as you can) and “it’s important to learn something new every day.”

No one is suggesting that officials need to work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks. Like teachers, they could take three months a year — say, March, April, and May — off to relax before coming back in June to work instructional camps, study film of the 32 teams, conduct rule and case seminars to prepare for the upcoming season, and get into shape! There is no reason to assume that under a properly structured employment system, the league would be “wasting money” with the officials outside of the five months and postseason in which they are working games.

Offer full-time officials excellent salaries and benefits, and my guess is that many more officials from the ranks of college and other professional leagues would aspire to reach the NFL leve and work hard to attain that goal. With many entry-level officials working hard to break into the league, incumbent officials would need to stay very motivated to continue being the best at what they do. Think of it exactly the way the players do: Rookies come in hungry and want to prove themselves, which ensures the veterans work hard to keep their own jobs.

Making the move

Lead officials would be offered full-time employment first, then lower-level officials would be accepted into the system as they demonstrated aptitude.

The NFL would not need to implement the new system all at once but could ease into it over the course of two or three seasons. No one wants massive shakeup in the officiating ranks, particularly without knowing how many officials would accept the new offer. (If the NFL was smart they would conduct a survey of current officials to get an idea of how many would accept a full-time employment offer).

Offer the upper level officials, like referees and umpires, the chance to move to full-time employment first. If some refuse, then the league would look at lower-level NFL officials and promote from within. No official breaks into the league as a lead referee; all must cut their teeth as linesman and back judges first. Once they had established their senior full-time officials, the NFL could implement full-time status for lower-level officials after a couple additional seasons of evaluation.

Grading out

Full-time employment doesn’t simply mean one is allowed to perform his or her job without evaluation.  Every season officials would continually be subjected to evaluation and grading. At the conclusion of the season season, each official would receive an overall evaluation of performance that would be directly linked to future promotion or compensation opportunities.  Officials would not need to be protected like tenured professors. Failure to meet the standard would be grounds for release.

NFL officials have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports, and their current compensation seems minuscule compared to the pressure they are under to perform perfectly every Sunday.  Mistakes will always be made, as human error and judgement can never be completely controlled.  But in the end it’s the responsibility of the NFL to develop officiating talent and put the best and brightest officials out on the field.  The easiest way to accomplish that to offer these officials the full-time employment and compensation they deserve.

The NFL would want to lose as few of its veteran officials as possible to avoid a repeat of the officiating fiasco that affected the league in the 2012 season.

About the author(s)

A passionate Chicago Bears fan, Jason Nardiello writes the Black, Blue and Ornery column for Water Cooler Sports. At age 36, he's somewhat technologically behind the curve and remembers being able to navigate through the 1990's without a cell phone. He's an admitted Jay Cutler apologist and isn't sorry for it. He can be reached for comment at .

557 comments
LaCWrestler
LaCWrestler

Well. Maybe try later. Talk to you guys maybe Monday. Don't know. College starts up again Monday. 

SDL
SDL

Later Gents

(you too, butt hurt fans of NFCN also-rans)

I get to go home and follow my wife around for several hours:

Forecast:  Zero fun

Prediction: Pain (in my ass)

... GO PACKERS!!

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

Off to play darts but I wanted to instruct you clowns in the ways of great music first. Turn the bass and volume all the way up on whatever you listen on.



Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

I am tired of waiting for my law school grades. 5 weeks is too damn long. 

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused

I love how he just starts walking away at the end like "Fuck yeah, I'm good"

Childerz...
Childerz...

 I would break all of those glasses

Childerz...
Childerz...

 Haven't seen Les for awhile either

Childerz...
Childerz...

 Don't forget get to Kaw-KAH and yell Mountaintop before throwing your darts! 

SDL
SDL

 

Are you graduating in four (4) months?

Plan on working before taking the bar?  Which state(s) are you planning to test in?


SDL
SDL

 

Downside of essay tests vs multiple choice

My first-year Crim Law prof had multiple choice questions, but he may have been the only one

Childerz...
Childerz...

 At least he's not talking about Baby dicks again

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  To answer your question more directly, yes I'm graduating in 4 months - hoping to get a job in civil litigation doing either insurance defense, PI, or employment stuff. 

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Behold the glory of Wisconsin. It's the only state in the U.S. of A that allows graduates from UW or MU who will practice in Wisconsin to skip the bar exam. As soon as I'm sworn in by the WI Supreme Court, I'm good to go. 

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  I've had a few multiple choice exams, including my ethics class this last semester. However, my school has a policy of having a single "due date" for the grades and then releasing them all at the same time about a week later. 

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Let's hope not. I need a f'n job in like 4 months. 

Childerz...
Childerz...

 Membername is a douchplague


FTFTFFFY

adambballn
adambballn

      

No... he's a douche.

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

   "I hear membername is a plague."


FTFY

Childerz...
Childerz...

 I hear Membername is a plague upon your house over on the gulag! 

SDL
SDL

  

You might be able to practice law in Europe (and be a fucking babe-magnet)

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Not really. My buddy applied, he's still waiting for a response. 

SDL
SDL

  

You wish.  Judge Advocate General (military lawyers - all services have 'em)


SDL
SDL

Good luck.  Have you considered the JAG Corps?

Childerz...
Childerz...

 PI... Penis Investigating... doesn't surprise me one bit with this guy. 

SDL
SDL

Don't get me going on the fucking bar exam.  The law is one of the few professions with no test of minimal competency.

The bar exam does exactly squat to weed out idiots.

IMO: law school should be two (2) years in the classroom and at least a year (maybe two) of supervised practice (like an internship/residency/apprenticeship)

Sadly, you maybe learn to think like a lawyer in law school.  You have to learn how to practice law after graduation

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

   Well it works. The last thing I want to do is prepare for and take another fucking test, which can cost a few thousand dollars. 

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused

  

Really it's just their way of keeping Wisconsin students from going to out of sate colleges.

SDL
SDL

 

I had heard rumors that was on the way out / already phased out

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

 It's called the Diploma Privilege and it has withstood constitutional scrutiny - our classes teach law specific to Wisconsin (allegedly). 

SDL
SDL

Yeah... I knew that.  I had people tell me I should go to law school when I was at Madison as an undergrad....

Sweet fucking deal if you ask me (and I know you were about to)

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused

  

"The menu states that by ingesting this food you grant me power of attorney!"

Childerz...
Childerz...

 Wait a lawyer and a CHEF!?? I 100% could not trust that the food I was eating was actually food... or that I was actually eating... OR if I ate it how do I know I wasn't going to get sued by the Lawyer/chef.

SDL
SDL

   

LOL... that would definitely improve his marketability

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused

  

That's what you get for going to the Milwaukee Community College Culinary Arts Law School.

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Your words are hurtful. I'm taking the bus and you will not see me at the pancake social.