For the 49ers and Ravens, the path to the Super Bowl was clear: They won their divisions, then won their playoff games, and now they have a chance to earn the right to be considered the best team in the NFL.
But the other seven men who will be on the field in the Super Bowl will get there through somewhat less meritorious means.
The eligibility requirements for the officials who work the postseason have been provided to PFT by the NFL, and they show that it’s not as simple as assigning the best officials to the biggest games. In fact, the NFL emphasizes taking turns to give more officials the opportunity to work in the playoffs, even if those officials don’t receive the highest grades that season.
In the 2012 regular season there were 18 referees in the NFL. Ten of them received playoff assignments: Alberto Riveron, Scott Green, Mike Carey and Peter Morelli worked wild card games; Bill Vinovich, Jerome Boger, Walt Coleman and Tony Corrente worked divisional games; Terry McAulay worked the NFC Championship and Bill Leavy worked the AFC Championship. The refs who didn’t make the playoffs were Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman, Carl Cheffers, Ed Hochuli, John Parry, Gene Steratore, Jeff Triplette and Ron Winter.
It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that there’s something fishy about giving playoff assignments to 10 out of 18 refs. When you’re picking 10 from a pool of 18, by definition, you’re picking one who is below average. Does it really make sense for a below average ref to work a playoff game?
It would make a lot more sense to identify the four best referees in the league over the course of the regular season and make them the four playoff referees. Those four would then work the wild card games and the divisional round. Then the league office would award the two conference championship assignments to the two referees who grade out the best in the first two rounds of the playoffs. After the conference championship games, the NFL could give the referee who graded out better in the conference championship the Super Bowl assignment, and give the other conference championship ref a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
If a close call is being decided and a playoff game is on the line, wouldn’t you rather have the first-, second-, third- or fourth-best ref making the call, instead of the 10th-best ref?
When it comes to the Super Bowl assignment, the NFL continues to value taking turns, even if it means putting the calls into the hands of someone who did not grade out as the league’s best referee. The NFL’s rules state only that an official has to be among the Top 5 highest-graded officials at his position to work the Super Bowl, and the rules specifically state that no official can work two Super Bowls in a row. But why not always assign the Super Bowl to the No. 1 highest-graded referee? And why shouldn’t an official work consecutive Super Bowls if he grades out as the best in the NFL for two consecutive seasons?
Although the NFL has not confirmed the assignment, it’s been widely reported that Jerome Boger will work this year’s Super Bowl. That has raised some eyebrows with other officials, who claim Boger’s grades were artificially enhanced by the league office, and the officiating website FootballZebras.com has raised questions about why Boger is working a Super Bowl when he has never previously worked a conference championship game.
The NFL doesn’t give out details about referees’ grades, so there’s no way to say for sure whether Boger was the best ref in the NFL this season, according to the league’s criteria. It would make a lot more sense for the NFL to simply say this: The best officials will always work the Super Bowl.