The NFL has had the ability to hire full-time officials since 2012, when the most recent labor deal with the folks who call the games was finalized. But the NFL has yet to implement the approach, for a variety of reasons.
Even with the league apparently closing in on hiring 17 full-time officials, the NFL Referees Association is still seeking clarity.
“There are a lot of issues there,” NFLRA executive director Scott Green recently told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “What’s the pay going to be? What are the responsibilities? None of that has been defined at this point.”
One of the primary challenge arises from the the expense of enticing officials to give up their “regular” jobs and become full-time, year-round NFL employees.
“Most of our guys don’t get in the league until their late 30s or early 40s,” Green said. “Obviously, they’ve developed a career in whatever it might be elsewhere. The initial concern would be if the [NFL] compensation is comparable to what they’re receiving currently. But also from a standpoint of job security, some of the guys may have professions that it’s not quite so easy to go back to should they get hurt or let go as an NFL official.”
That’s a point that often gets overlooked. Officiating has a much higher degree of accountability than other jobs, with every decision and non-decision being scrutinized and evaluated. Make enough mistakes, and it’s farewell. Which makes it harder to say farewell to a non-football job that has a lot more stability and security.
From the league’s perspective, it becomes harder to justify the compensation level in the offseason, when there’s not much for the officials to do. That said, the down time could be filled with workouts, rules study, and even virtual reality training that would expose them to as many potential on-field scenarios as possible.
It remains to be seen whether full-time officials will result in a lower rate of in-game mistakes. However, with the league soon to be embracing Las Vegas, it becomes even more important for the league to create the impression that it’s doing everything it can to ensure that as few mistakes as possible are made.