Former Big 10 and Arena League ref heads replacement crew

The NFL has spared no expense finding the best and brightest officials for tonight’s preseason opener.

Running the crew will be Craig Ochoa, perhaps best known as the highway commissioner of Hanover Township, Illinois.

According to Mike Sando of, Ochoa’s heading tonight’s crew of replacement officials for the Hall of Fame Game between the Saints and Cardinals.

Ochoa is listed on the local government’s website as being a “26 year veteran professional football and basketball referee working mostly in the Big 10 Football Conference and the Arena League.”

Sando notes the crew also features umpire Tim Morris, head linesman Kevin Akin, line judge Esteban Garza, field judge Rusty Spindel, side judge Dwayne Strozier and back judge Mark Wetzel.

The performance of these replacements is going to be as interesting as watching the Cards and Saints starters in a handful of plays, and could become a piece of leverage for one side, depending on their performance.

A crew of replacements was working the Panthers scrimmage Saturday, and a league source told PFT the two most-experienced members of that crew were a pair of retired officials from the ACC and Big Ten. It also included one official who worked in NFL Europa, and one whose experience was in the high school ranks. Most major Division I college conferences have barred their refs from working as NFL replacements, but some Division II leagues have also gone to that length.

These are the men monitoring and protecting the best players in the world. We’ll see in a few hours if anyone notices the difference.

(Photo credit: Hanover Township, Illinois)

4 responses to “Former Big 10 and Arena League ref heads replacement crew

  1. They have doctors and a person up from the league who aren’t replacements and can focus a lot more on
    “protecting and monitoring” the best players in the world (I guess they watch the bad ones too, but they don’t seem as important to PFT). In case you forgot the refs did very little of that until the middle of last season, their main job is to manage the game and watch for penalties. As far as the monitoring I’m comfortable the league has taught them (the basics which is all they really need to know, injury/concussion info) just as much as they taught the refs when they put the policy in during the season.

  2. How do they protect the players?
    Does throwing a flag AFTER a play on which a player is injured heal the player? And by missing the call the player remains injured?
    You are not talking about the new concussion procedures, as those involve off-field officials.
    Even if officials, replacement or otherwise, continue to miss repetitive calls, will that change the players’ blocking or tackling form? If that’s true, you can take money from position coaches, who clearly wouldn’t be doing their jobs, and give it to the officials who have a greater impact on the players’ correct practice.
    Or are you saying that players are so stupid that they will intentionally injure opponents on the field if they think they won’t get a yardage penalty, moronically forgetting the league review of game tapes and the monetary and suspension fines that go with those reviews?

  3. Goodell talks about player safety and has replacement refs out there? The owners are making money hand over fist and they can’t pay these guys what amounts to chump change? Talk about hypocrisy.

  4. The replacement refs have been fine. We should remember that this is a children’s game played by men and that it’s not overly complicated.

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