As some coaches call for full-time officials, don't expect it anytime soon

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday July 20, 2017


Officials have so much control over a football game, should they have more resources?

With all of the Power 5 conferences moving to some form of collaborative replay, and the shortage of officials at the high school level, it’s a profession undergoing a lot of change. But it’s not even really a profession.

Officials mostly have full-time jobs elsewhere and typically work football practices and games on the side. In recent years, multiple coaches have called for full-time officials, in order to help them improve the craft and also hold them more accountable. So I asked Big 12 director of officiating Walt Anderson, if he could see that happening.

“I know the NFL is talking about it. It would be more problematic from the college standpoint, for a number of reasons,” said Anderson, who has been in officiating for more than 40 years. “You don’t have as many games, you don’t have a lot of the same requirements, relative to offseason needs. Our officials work spring practices and spring games, but you’re usually asked to be there for a full scrimmage on a weekend or night. I don’t really see it, from the college standpoint, where it would make economic sense.”

Washington State head coach Mike Leach criticizes officials more than most coaches and always calls for more accountability. Last September, coming off a game in which his team has 10 penalties, he actually said they should get raises.

We ought to double their pay, so they make twice as much, and it’s a desirable position to have, that you aspire to, beyond telling you friends at the country club,” Leach said. “At the end of the year, they ought to cut the bottom four, and you need a relationship with the other conferences so you move your bottom four or eight to the lower conferences and you draw eight of the best and brightest and move them up. … There’s got to be a motivation to improve your skills and measure up to a standard and be competitive.”

Football is obviously different than basketball, baseball or other sports, with so few games. But if coaches and players work year-round, why shouldn’t officials, given how much influence they carry in a game? No one notices when they get something right, and they mostly receive public scorn from players, coaches, fans and parents. 

“We look at film, then we go out and practice, then we come and look at the film of what we practiced and learn from it,” UCLA’s Jim Mora said in 2015. “The more repetitions you get, whether it’s mental reps or physical reps, the better you’re going to get at anything. Why not have officials at every single practice? Why not make it part of the protocol? Have them at practice and see every single situation that comes up, and then they’re more prepared on Saturday.”

The Power 5 conferences aren’t exactly hurting for money. In the 2016 fiscal year, the SEC paid out around $40 million each to all 14 schools.

The NFL has even more resources available. In March, Roger Goodell said the league would hire some full-time officials, perhaps as many as 17. The commissioner said at the time they believe it can add more consistency. It's a step.

But as for college football, that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

“I think it is viable for the NFL. I don’t think they’ll start with all 124 officials, but I think they’re going to look at some of their staff being full-time,” Anderson said. “I think that has merits. It’s not that I don’t think the college wouldn’t have merits. I just don’t think the financial numbers make sense.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.

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