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Full-Time Officials: The NFL Finally Makes the Move

The league and the officials’ union have approved full-time officials for the 2017 season, at least one for each of the seven positions on each crew. Big question: Will it improve the overall performance of the zebras?

On Wednesday, the NFLRA, the union for NFL officials, approved a joint plan with the league to begin implementing full-time officials immediately.

The goal will be to get to 21 to 24 full-time officials, though that could take some time. It’s expected that there will be some full-timers in place before the start of the 2017 regular season next month.

 “I think they’re going to get plenty of applications,” NFLRA executive director Scott Green told the MMQB.

Under the plan, negotiated by the league and union, each of seven field officiating positions will be represented, with no more than five full-timers coming from one position. The full-time officials will draw from the current roster of 124 game officials, and the full-time officials will be permitted to have outside employment so long as, as Green explained it, “the hire will recognize the NFL as its primary employer.”

Of particular importance to the NFLRA was that becoming full-time wasn’t compulsory for any official—and that they’d retain the option of staying part-time. By spreading the allotment of 21 to 24 spots among the seven different field positions, it shouldn’t be hard to accomplish that.

“They started talking about it back in May,” Green said. “And the concept for us was to get as many guys [full-time jobs] as possible. Initially the numbers were low, and there was a focus on just the referees, and we were encouraged that they were willing to look at additional people, and at all positions. We think it’s beneficial. Once that was on track, we got work tasks, their vision, and making sure it wasn’t compulsory.”

From the NFL’s standpoint, according to a league source, it was essential that communication between the field officials and its Park Ave. office was ramped up—and the feeling is that’s been accomplished too.

The full-time officials will be expected to be in New York at least once a month, and can be called in on other occasions (with 48 hours notice required). The thought is that better back-and-forth between new officiating czar Al Riveron and his staff, and those in the field, will lead to more consistency in officiating across the board.

What does the league want to eliminate? One crew being known for holding, another crew being known for pass interference, and coaches planning for games accordingly. As the NFL sees it, better lines of communication from the field to the office should help with that.

As for the differences in jobs, the biggest ones will come during the designated “dark period” that runs from the end of each individual official’s season until May 15. The NFL is not allowed to use the part-timers in any way over that stretch. Now, however, the league will have officials working during that time, which will give them input on rules changes and other competition committee decisions in the winter and spring.

The league has emphasized that its focus has been on improving the state of officiating throughout this process. Safe to say, the NFLRA is OK with that.

“We would hope to see that, too,” said Green. “But the fact is, other sports have had full-time officials for years, and they get criticized plenty. It’s part of the job.”

And now, after a laborious process—it’s been almost five years since the NFL and NFLRA agreed in their 2012 CBA to experiment with full-time officials—there will be a little more to each of those jobs, which can’t hurt.

“We’re happy to be able to come to an agreement, and we’re committed to making it work,” Green said. “Anything that helps the game, we’re 100 percent for that.”

Check back for more on this story in Albert Breer’s Thursday Game Plan column.