The NFL started officially at a time of crisis, but the answer is still elusive

The NFL’s official move has been subject to intense backlash this year from the media and fans alike, but after speaking with several people in the know, the fix hasn’t been an easy one.

In Week 3, the clock plays zero with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson in shotgun. Almost two seconds passed before he snapped.

The officials did not throw the flag because of the delay of the match. Instead, Justin Tucker hit a record-breaking goal in a 66-yard win that hit the crossbar. Detroit fans double in despair.

In Week 8, Cleveland’s Jordan Elliott threw himself into Chris Boswell’s helmet in a pass attempt, leaving Pittsburgh without a kicker while Boswell suffered a concussion. No penalty is invoked. Performance analyst Gene Steratore said it should have been a 15-yard game to deal with the passer’s error.

In Week 9, mocking was called Mitch Trubisky of Buffalo, who wasn’t even at the stadium after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 roster. The umpire soon corrected the mistake by declaring it against No. 10. Two innings later, the umpire announced an unnecessarily rough penalty to Jacksonville who lined up to play the ball. After the officials stopped the game for a few minutes, the referee announced a penalty for Buffalo.

Like its players and coaches, the best in the game, NFL officials will always make mistakes. Every week, fans see rule breakdowns such as constant timeouts, inconsistencies in passer handling and other subjective appeals, and this year, in particular, the Informal group meetings with little discussion disrupting the game flow.

“I watch the games now and I’m frustrated,” said Jim Daopolous, a former NFL official who moved into the NFL office as a supervisor of officials in the 2000s. “They’re trying to learn quickly and that has an impact on capacity.”

No one said officials have an easy job. And the scrutiny of this fleet of seven has intensified as fans around the world see replays within seconds on social media.
Daopoulos, who ran for two decades, including 10 years of NCAA football, before he won the NFL spot, says the NFL’s problem is too many officials with minimal experience.

Daopolous, who compares the pace of an NFL game to watching a train go by, said: “People always ask me, ‘How do they catch that quick toe touch on the sideline?’. “Well, they see it 1,000 times.”

More than a quarter of the 121 NFL officials – 33 – had less than five seasons under them. A dozen officials are in their first or second season.

Ben Austro is the creator of Football Zebras, a website that provides expert analysis and coverage of NFL executive, and he reminds Daopoulos of the inexperience of NFL officials. Austro, points to an accepted rule of thumb that it takes NFL officials 5 years of game experience before they hit top speed. Austro, who has thoroughly researched the administration since requesting a rule book from the NFL in 1988, says the quality of the administration has not increased to accommodate the increased scrutiny.

Austro says NFL officials are nearly 99% accurate on their calls, a statistic available on the NFL’s operations website provides executive details, and Football Zebras highlights calls. Great call of the official on its Twitter feed. However, Austro said increasing training and development opportunities would help less experienced officials reduce blatant errors and rule book errors.

Several recent retirements, some related to the pandemic, have led to high turnover and new hires, but Austro says critical training needs to take place five years before officials arrive. NFL.

Neither the NFL nor the NFL Arbitration Association (NFLRA) responded to requests for interview for this article. Throughout the season, the NFL does not allow interviews with current officials except the referee, a team chief official, speaks to team reporters during post-match press conferences.
Both Austro and Daopoulos say that the NFL once had an ideal training ground for officials in NFL Europe.

There, the pace of the game is close to that of the NFL, with more than 100 players and a handful of officials eventually landing in the major leagues after honing their skills. Daopoulos oversees NFL Europe officials and recruits people who not only have good expertise in the mechanics and rules of the field, but also team players who enjoy using feedback to help improve.

Steve Freeman started in NFL Europe and worked as an NFL official for 20 years until retiring before this season. Even before it officially started, Freeman had seen first-hand the pace of the game in the NFL, serving as a standout defensive back for Buffalo and Minnesota until 1987.

“Being productive is definitely harder than playing,” says Freeman. “You don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens.”

To account for the uncertainty of not being on the chat call, Freeman will do everything he can to make sure he doesn’t make a gameday mistake. He says 85% of the work is mental preparation. First, there’s the rule book, which Freeman says requires year-round study and passing a written test during the season. In the time leading up to gameday, instead of studying the opposing team’s attack as he did in play, he needed to learn attack, defense, and special teams for both teams.

Upon leaving the stadium, officials received a thumb drive with the game being recorded for review. They spend hours watching every play and consulting with the crew and supervisors about their performances and how to improve. Oh, by the way, there’s travel.

During the off-season, officials can work up to 60 hours a week, Daopoulos said, and it’s easy for supervisors to spot people who’ve put in the time to prepare.

Freeman, who has been on the NFL’s trial with full-time officials since 2017-19, says he can only imagine the challenges faced by officials who held other jobs at the time. Monday morning. Some officials are self-employed or work in industries that allow reduced hours during the season, but others are school teachers, sales managers, and city building safety supervisors.

Many fans complain about the officials having different careers, comparing NFL officials to full-time NBA, NHL and MLB employees. Unlike other professional sports, the NFL’s season is longer than the regular season. And there are usually only two games a week outside of Sunday.

While Freeman said the real reason the NFL isn’t hiring full-time officials is to avoid paying for health insurance, neither Austro nor Daopoulos believe full-time officials will lead to improvement. forward. Austro says the talent pool will dwindle if officials are forced to give up another job for an NFL executive position that is at risk of injury or could be short-lived if you’re not good enough. On the other hand, he acknowledges that an official’s other job may prevent them from making the trip that may be needed to advance to positions.

Daopoulos also doesn’t believe fair compensation matters. He said he helped push officials to earn more for officials in a collective bargaining agreement. Officials can start earning close to $200,000 and earn up to $300,000 for half a year of working on the game.

Officials who take playoff duties make more money. Officials are scored for every play based on a rating system begun in the 1990s by pioneer Art McNally, who was recently a Hall of Fame nominee. Officials are divided into three grades based on scores, with the highest being chosen for the knockout round.

Austro said some officials can be so obsessed with the scoring system that to avoid making an incorrect call, they gather and wait for the call from the instant replay counter. Daopolous believes replay can be a useful tool, but says the growing reliance on it is hurting the game-watching experience of the remaining fans watching an official one played with their headphones. surname.

“There is too much focus on New York,” says Daopoulos. “Officials make mistakes. Replay officials make mistakes — they make mistakes in New York. ”

Meanwhile, at the NFL’s New York offices, there’s also substantial turnover among ceremonial heads.

In 2020, Walt Anderson, a 24-year NFL official, becomes Senior Vice President of Behavior Training and Development, and Perry Vaiell, a former NFL coach, becomes Senior Vice President of Management Behavioral Management. Just before the first game of the season, Al Riveron, Executive Senior Vice President since 2017, resigned. Then another executive VP left the replay booth at the end of August. The responsibilities seem to change constantly.

“Perhaps Anderson will now handle both on-field and replay, and ultimately reducing the time available to develop and train the newer officials that the special officials league negotiates, ‘ Austro wrote in an August 30 article for Football Zebras.

Austro has also written in recent years about the NFL cutting off-season participation by a group of respected former officials who will come to games to provide mentorship and say it may take time. time for the NFL to adjust to new leadership in a supervisory role. In the meantime, he says the league needs to maximize mentoring opportunities. For example, make sure to pair an inexperienced judge with a veteran sub-judge.

Daopoulos says that the NFL’s best officials treat their crew like a second family.

“You live and die with them every week,” he said.

Daopoulos says being a close-knit group leads to that coveted experience. Newer officials must learn the philosophy of being an NFL official. It’s what Daopoulos calls “in the margins,” referring to meetings in which officials write down the interpretation of a rule in the margins of the rule book. For an offensive flag act, for example, officials will learn to call a flag only if they see a “twist” or a “shrug”.

Over time, the game day experience will help officials learn to better communicate with players and coaches. Without strong communication on the field, officials could lose control of the game.

“Some of these officials become cyborgs out there,” said Daopoulos. “I’m not sure if they’re scared.”

One official who showed no fear was Tony Corrente, who recently drew attention for the possibility of a hip test on Chicago Bears quarterback Cassius Marsh before handing out a penalty. mock. Austro said Corrente, who recently turned 70 and is the NFL’s oldest field official, is an example of the experience that leads to a highly ranked official who isn’t necessarily too old for the job. The NFL needs to find a delicate balance between experience and prospects, Austro said.

Currently, the NFL has a growing system that includes more than 20 NCAA officials who work on games including intro games during the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Austro said the NFL should also seek out more talent in its lower college divisions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as in the resurrected XFL.

For this NFL season, official teams have been set up.

“There are no minor leagues that can be entered for the NFL,” said Austro.

Only once in recent years has the NFL fired an official for a season. So, how well will NFL fans accept current officials studying in the job? We already know the answer to that question. Daopoulos says that America’s most popular sport will always set a higher standard.

“People expect basketball, baseball and hockey officials to make mistakes,” Daopoulos said. “They don’t expect NFL officials to make mistakes.” The NFL started officially at a time of crisis, but the answer is still elusive

Subhankar Mondal

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