It appears the NFL will soon be taking significant steps to improve officiating. According to Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, the league will likely be hiring 17 full-time officials for the 2016-17 season. In addition to allowing officials to commit adequate time for training and consultation, the hiring of full-time officials means the size of NFL officiating crews will expand from seven to eight.
Before proceeding, the league will continue to consult with coaches, general managers and owners, before making the final decision when the NFL’s Competition Committee meets in February.
More Eyes On the Field
NFL officials are more accurate than most people think. Vincent says that the league’s officials currently get about 97 percent of all calls right; however, bad calls on critical plays can draw negative attention to the league. To see if larger officiating crews improve accuracy, the NFL is closely following college football. The Big 12 conference started using eight-member crews in 2013, and the rest of the NCAA adopted the same policy in 2015.
While it is highly likely that the NFL will add an extra official for each game, it is less certain where that official will line up. The first possibility is that the eighth official will monitor penalties along the interior line. The second option is that the additional official will monitor hits to the quarterback. CBS Sports’ Jared Dubin says that either of these changes would be a step forward. He points to some uncalled late hits that were sustained by Cam Newton last season as proof that officials need to do a better job watching out for the safety of quarterbacks.
The Advantage of Having Full-Timers
Most NFL officials work full-time jobs during the week and officiate on the weekends. People have been making a case for the NFL to employ full-time officials for quite some time. Last year, Jarret Bell of USA Today wrote an article highlighting some important missed calls that changed the outcomes of games. On one instance, officials missed an obvious illegal formation on a field goal that allowed Jacksonville to beat Baltimore, in another, Seattle beat Detroit after Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright illegally batted a ball out of the end zone. Bell says these plays were inexcusable because they involved the administration of rules rather than simply missed calls.
The NFL currently suffers from a lack of experience when it comes to officiating. According to Bell, 23 officials in the 2015-16 NFL season had less than two years of experience. Full-time officials could be better trained, allowing them to bring a more thorough understanding of the rules to the field.
Better Officiating Means Better Football for Fans
Diehard NFL fans who turn to places like sports betting sites to collect every piece of information they can on the week’s upcoming games don’t spend their valuable money and time watching football to see games decided by officials’ mistakes.
Officials bring the element of human fallibility with them and can change the outcome of any game or spread with just a single missed call. Players making plays are what should determine the final outcomes on the field.
What to Expect in the Future
There is no way to eliminate human error entirely when it comes to officiating in the NFL. Still, the league seems willing, more than it has been in the past, to improve the current state of officiating. In addition to hiring full-time officials, the NFL’s Competition Committee will also be considering expanded use of replay, another feature that would inspire confidence that the final scores will accurately reflect what happened on the field.