The NFL playoffs are a meritocracy, with only 12 of the 32 teams invited, and that number whittled down each week until you get to one.
But if you’re an NFL official, you don’t even have to be in the top half of the class to make the postseason.
As Crabtree pointed out last night, Walt Coleman, John Parry, Gene Steratore and Ron Torbert will be the referees leading all-star crews in this weekend’s wild card games.
Since the league doles out playoff assignments based on regular season grades, and only the crew that works the Super Bowl will work a pair of playoff games (including one next weekend), it stands to reason that Coleman, Parry, Steratore and Torbert represent the seventh through 10th spots in the referee power rankings. There are 17 referees on the league’s official roster.
It would seemingly follow that next week we’ll see the top crew and crews four through six, and the second- and third-ranked crews will work conference championship games.
But that gets us back to this weekend.
Among these esteemed officials are two guys who administered a pair of high-profile mistakes on Monday nights, meaning the rest of their work must have been really good.
Torbert’s crew missed an obvious player trying to report eligible in the Cardinals-Ravens game, which the league circled back and admitted was a mistake.
Steratore attracted notice during the Patriots-Bills game for an inadvertent whistle that stopped a play and also for saying Bills wideout Sammy Watkins was “giving himself up” rather than trying to get out of bounds, which kept the Bills for having a chance at a Hail Mary.
Torbert will be working Saturday’s Chiefs-Texans game, while Steratore will be in Washington Sunday.
While the attention paid to officials’ mistakes has compounded (possibly but not absolutely at a higher rate than the mistakes themselves), the bigger problem might be trying to reward too many officials.
With no more than four games on any weekend, it’s a little hard to justify the guy who came in 10th of 17 advancing to the postseason, turning officiating assignments into the equivalent of a pre-Christmas college bowl game.