Of the 17 referees on the NFL’s payroll during the 2017 season, four of them have now left. Does that leave the NFL with a referee problem?
It’s a fair question to ask as the 2018 season approaches. While the departures of Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette had been known for months, the bang-bang retirements of Terry McAulay and Gene Steratore in recent days, reportedly to work at NBC and CBS respectively, is jarring. And the moves raise legitimately questions as to whether something has gone haywire with the NFL’s officiating department, whether more referees will leave, and whether the replacements will be good enough.
Six years ago, the Commissioner stridently boasted that replacement officials would perform as well as the locked-out black-and-white-stripers who wanted more green than the NFL would give them. Reality proved the Commissioner quite wrong, culminating in the embarrassment that was the Fail Mary.
Three days after the Seahawks beat the Packers thanks to a blatant case of offensive pass interference on the game’s last play, the “A” team was back, led by the swagger of Steratore, who’s Thursday night strut for a Browns-Ravens game let everyone know that, indeed, there’s a palpable difference between the best officials in football and those who aren’t.
With Steratore now gone (along with McAulay, Hoculi, and Triplette), the NFL will be facing a real test. And the stakes are higher than ever, since there will be actual, legal stakes on the games.
And it could have been worse. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reported that Clete Blakeman also auditioned for the NBC gig that went to McAulay. If ESPN hadn’t hired Triplette (who already had retired, and who many fans won’t miss), maybe Blakeman would have gotten one of the three recently-filled network gigs.
And maybe now the report that the NFL nudged ESPN to hire Triplette makes more sense. Maybe it wasn’t about helping Tripllette; maybe it was about helping the NFL not lose yet another referee as a new season approaches.
And maybe the NFL now needs to worry about possibly losing more referees after the coming season concludes.