Longtime college football official Sarah Thomas is working toward becoming the first female to serve on an NFL officiating crew.
Thomas, who has officiated Conference-USA games for the last eight seasons, worked at the Colts’ minicamp this week in the NFL’s officiating development program, and she’ll be back in Indianapolis next month to work the Colts’ training camp. League officials told the Associated Press that Thomas is the first woman to officiate on an NFL practice field through the program, and she may call some preseason games this year. If she performs well, she could be hired as a regular official in 2014.
Thomas would actually not be the first female NFL official. That would be Shannon Eastin, who became the first woman to officiate in an NFL game when the league hired replacements during last year’s lockout of the regular officials. But while Eastin herself wasn’t to blame for any prominent botched calls, the officials’ lockout was generally viewed as a mess, replacements made significant mistakes in big games, and no one wanted to celebrate much of anything about the whole replacement official fiasco.
If Thomas earns an NFL job through the ordinary channels, that would be something to celebrate. But Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, is making clear that the NFL will hire Thomas only if she’s the best person for the job, not to make a statement. The NFL has been evaluating Thomas as a potential official for a few years now.
For her part, Thomas said the biggest difference between working Conference-USA games and working NFL practices is that the players are faster.
“The speed, yes, is there,” Thomas said. “These are just phenomenal athletes on both sides of the ball. The game has a tendency to slow down the most snaps you get and repetition. So, hopefully, the more snaps I get, things will start slowing down a little bit.”
Blandino said that’s similar to the adjustment a player has to make when going from college to the NFL. It’s a major adjustment, but one that Thomas appears to be ready to make.