Features – Eight ways to never get another game


By Tim Sloan

Want to keep your officiating career on track? Here are a few things to avoid.

The pages of Referee often feature the do’s for landing the next big game and breaking into the next level. But equally important to furthering an officiating career is avoiding the don’ts — the things that draw negative attention to ourselves and make it harder to fill our officiating dance card.

For sure, there are “special causes” that can cut back our assignments. Slugging the coach, ratting out the concession stand to the health department or parking in the handicapped spot all come to mind. But let’s examine the laundry list of boneheaded decisions that some of our guild routinely pull — even if they don’t realize it. They embarrass/annoy/piss off our assigners to the point that the Maytag repairman looks like a workaholic in contrast. If you want to spend more time doing less as an official, remember to include some of these gambits in your repertoire:

1. Dump assignments OK, everybody now and then has a work commitment come up on short notice. Hey, sometimes your grandmother dies — but three times? The best assigners know enough to hedge against the unexpected and keep a small stable of super subs, but you don’t want to test their patience and get them writing your name in pencil. Honor your commitments or find another avocation.

2. Double-book yourself Once or twice a year, I see emails — dripping with angst and self-flagellation — from officials who realized they took two games on the same day and have to punt one. Some actually offer the “better” game because it was the second one offered. It can happen, but when “disorganization” becomes a pattern, your growth prospects are about as good as a three-legged zebra’s. A cunning variation of that strategy is accepting a game and then being offered a better assignment for the same day: The perp takes the second with the excuse he or she hasn’t received a contract yet on the original assignment.

3. Make a liar out of Werner Heisenberg The German physicist’s Uncertainty Principle is that there’s a limit to knowing two related properties of a particle at the same time. How, then, do you beg off of the mandatory clinic because you need root canal work but get caught sipping a cold one at the Cubs’ game at the same time? It’s much, much easier to keep the truth straight than lies. If the demands of keeping up your officiating commitments don’t jive with your social life, stop kidding yourself and other people. Choose one or the other.

4. Defraud your assigner
I remember sitting in the locker room one time, 45 minutes before a Thursday night college game, nervously waiting for half the crew to show up. The referee, umpire and back judge were already 75 minutes late when they finally strolled in, already in uniform. Seems the high school game they just worked ran a little long, and traffic was a bear. I also remember the game ending 86-21 and there being three misapplications of rules that I couldn’t talk people into changing. While officiating isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, it should become the only thing in your life once you earn someone’s trust, commit to an assignment and back your car out of the driveway. Nowadays, they talk about dressing one level above your customer in a business meeting; the corollary is treating your assignment with as much commitment as the people playing in it. Give them your best rather than what you have left because your narcissism kicked in again.

5. Be a prima donna When you’re acting the part I described in the previous segment, it’s important not to hire a skywriter to remind people. Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right. I once worked a soccer match with a guy who declared that he wasn’t leaving without his game fee. It didn’t matter to him that the team treasurer had been unexpectedly hospitalized and a mailed check had already been promised. So, there were the club chairman and president on their hands and knees, emptying their pockets of crumpled bills and loose change to pay Tony so the rest of us could hit the road. Sure, there are all sorts of subplots to go with anecdotes like that one, but if your pattern becomes being a pain in the rear about your definition of “principles,” either you’re wrong for the league or the league’s wrong for you — and it will only play out one way.

6. Undermine your fellow officials Now, I’m pretty good with computers and know how most of the thingies work for the TV, but I don’t understand Facebook, Twitter and whatever else. Oh, I know what you do with them; I just don’t understand why it’s anybody’s business what music I like or, more to the point, what I thought of the referees in last night’s game at state. Somewhere, too many officials have concluded that criticizing another official is protected speech on social media for which they cannot be held accountable. Maybe it’s “free” — from the perspective that you can’t go to jail for it — but it’s very costly if you think it will help your career. Let’s see: It brings your objectivity into question; it antagonizes prospective partners; it makes your assigner question your motives; and it erases any chance you’ll have for the benefit of the doubt, should you ever need it. Here’s a rule of thumb: If HR might get involved if you said the same thing at work that you just wrote about another official on Facebook, you probably shouldn’t have written it. The officiating community has a way of running off bad eggs.

Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right.

7. Be a high-maintenance partner This story, just in: An officiating assignment should be something you look forward to for the game itself, the events surrounding it and the officials with whom you work. Your crewmates should be thinking the same thing. Having said that, the Apollo 11 astronauts — for all their fame — were not a close-knit trio, tending to go their separate ways after work. The Apollo 12 crew, by comparison, was a 24/7 party, right down to their matching gold Corvettes. The Apollo 7 crew alienated themselves so thoroughly the ground controllers mused about having them splash down in a hurricane. A crew — any kind of a crew — can function well together without necessarily even liking each other if they can keep their focus on the prime objective. Make no mistake, however, that crew leaders — any kind of crew leaders — have some say in crew selection. If you’re the type of crewmate who develops a rep — from your toenail clipping to your inflated ego — of grating on others, you will find your opportunities and schedule starting to dwindle.

Let’s see … oh, yes; there’s one other item on the list which bears mention:

8. Suck We can look at most of the previous items on this list as “qualifiers” (or not) to work games. Generally, if you have only limited symptoms of some of the diseases covered, they might be tolerated if you show an ability to part the waters once out between the lines. General Patton wasn’t revered by everyone in the Third Army, but he was good at winning battles, so they went along with him. Hey, many of us played for a coach we loathed, but we finished 9-2 and a lot was forgotten. That being the case, there is no more sure-fire way to ruin a career than by becoming a certified liability. To achieve that, try these time-tested behaviors: Don’t work at the rules. Set aside sanctioned mechanics in favor of your own. Don’t keep up your conditioning. Be a distraction. Let the teams get to you. Let the fans get to you. Let your significant other get to you. Let your pride get to you. Don’t attend clinics because you “won’t learn anything.” Consider your own perspective to be sacrosanct. Don’t consider others better than yourself. Believe it’s more important to protect yourself than to serve the game.

Every event in your officiating career is an experience — whether it’s a positive one or negative is up to you. You start heading down the road to ruin when you make too many experiences negative for you, those around you or your assigner. Most officials who I see fail in some sense have a false and sad sense of entitlement when it comes right down to it. They burn out because the combination of their intellect, athleticism, character and personality isn’t suited to the level they’re trying to work — and they don’t deal with it well. Sometimes that happens in Pop Warner, sometimes in Division II. Whatever the case, if you’re driven by the notion, “It can’t be me,” it tends to lead to behaviors mentioned above, alienating you from all your potential benefactors.

Becoming a better official and thereby improving assignments is a process which takes time to complete and can only be escalated so much. You may not have the tools to reach the level you desire, but you certainly have the ability to make it worse for yourself through poor motives, poor choices and poor actions.

Being hardworking and responsible as an official guarantees nothing, but placing yourself above it all guarantees everything.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Tips for working as the Referee” with legendary white hat Jerry Markbreit

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to determine what is a pass and what is a fumble.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what the referee does when two officials have conflicting calls with one another and won’t back down.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about how to sound competent and confident on the microphone.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about the importance of rules study and knowing all the penalty enforcements.

Retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, talks about what needs to be done as the referee to ensure that the entire crew is on the same page on and out of the field.

Basketball – Five Minutes with Pat Adams

Officiating plays going toward the basket and in the lane.


Resides: Mobile, Ala.

Experience: Officiating since 1990, Adams worked his first D-I game in 1992. Having worked in the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, American Athletic, ACC, Big 12, Conference USA, Horizon, SEC, Southern, Sun Belt and SWAC.


REFEREE: Your toughest call?

ADAMS: Oh, yes, out of bounds. I’m not going to say I disagree with what (some say), but they were saying the hardest play is the block/charge, and I personally disagree with that. The hardest play for me is out of bounds, by far. Out-of-bounds plays are the hardest plays, and then basket interference and goaltending, and that’s another play going toward the basket, difficult plays.


REFEREE: What makes goaltending and basket interference difficult for you?

ADAMS: Unless it jumps out at you, you have the mind-set, oh, that’s basket interference or goaltending, if I have to really kind of think about it I try to leave those alone. They have to jump out at you. As far as the flicking on the backboard, flicking the ball off the backboard, they can be real difficult to tell unless you’re in the right position to see it. It’s just difficult. Whose hand is going up there touching the ball, whether he touched it or did he not touch it, and with the replay monitor review the way the rules are set up now, sometimes you’re not able to go review that kind of stuff. It happens very, very quick, especially that flick off the backboard. That can be tough. That can be real tough. The way I’ve been taught how to referee it is to take the plays all the way up to the basket so you go up with the players as they go to the rim, and then referee that play at the rim that’s how I was taught how to do it.


REFEREE: How do you focus on that? What is your mind-set when you’ve got out-of-bounds plays?

ADAMS: You try to put yourself in the right position, the best position possible to see the play. When it happens it’s bang-bang, and go out of bounds. You just have to focus, really focus and concentrate on what’s going on, be into the game and concentrate and you just have to react and see it. You won’t always be right, and that’s when you have to trust your partners to come and help you when need be, and vice-versa, when you need to help them, then you go and do that. You’ve just got to be ready and put yourself in the best position. You have to work to maintain and get open angles. You have to try to get the open angles at all times. That’s all a part of moving and getting into good position.


REFEREE: Are there guidelines for verticality plays when players are protecting their basket?

ADAMS: The defensive player establishes an initial legal guarding position, and the big guys, if they put their hands in a verticality position, they’re able to go backwards or jump up in the air, then they are in legal position. If an offensive player comes into that defensive player, I give him the opportunity for the natural reaction to absorb that contact. Sometimes that contact will allow their hands to come down slightly. As long as they don’t bring it all the way down, then that would constitute a foul on the defense. The verticality to me is not literally arms straight in the air, because that’s unrealistic in my opinion. You have to give them an opportunity, keep in mind that their knees are bent and they’re in a defensive position and their arms are straight in the air, that’s a natural position. When the offensive player is going to initiate that contact, you’ve got to give him an opportunity to react to that. And then that reaction is going to be move back and the arms are going to come down slightly. Then the judgment comes in to whether the defensive player is going to bring his arms down in an illegal act. That’s how I see verticality.


REFEREE: What guidelines would you provide to someone to improve on those bang-bang block/charge plays?

ADAMS: If a defensive player starts off in an initial legal guarding position, he can move to maintain that position before the kid leaves the ground. If it’s not a play going toward the basket, if he moves to maintain his legal guarding position, I look at the offensive player going to him and through him. He goes to him and through him, you have an offensive foul. That’s what I look at. You have to referee the defense in those situations. You have to beat the play down the court to set yourself up to receive the play, and once you receive the play you put yourself in a position to receive the play coming and you referee the defense, and then you can set your parameters and your guidelines and things that you were taught. Go through the checklist. Did he start initially in legal guarding position? Did the guy go to him and through him? And that’s when you decide whether it’s an offensive foul or a blocking foul. But to him and through him on those bang-bang plays.


REFEREE: Is there anything you’re doing as you’re moving in position to receive that play? Is there anything going through your mind, thought process?

ADAMS: Yes, I talk to myself throughout the game to keep myself focused and concentrating on everything. When I’m running down I pick up the guy that can hurt me, who is going to be the competitive matchup is the correct way of saying it. I pick up the competitive matchup and I start refereeing the defense and try to put myself in a position to get the wide angle, to see what can hurt me here. I’m anticipating the play but not the call. I’m anticipating what’s going to happen, but before I blow my whistle, make sure I see what I see. I talk to myself and I tell myself the whole game, call the obvious and keep the game simple. That’s my way of talking to myself. Call the obvious and keep the game as simple as possible.


REFEREE: How do multiple defenders on a block charge play change your mind- set in the officiating aspect of it?

ADAMS: Look at the play yesterday. When most of the defenders come, again, take the most competitive matchup and the person that can hurt you the most, open your angle so you can see, and also you have to get the first foul. If you have a reach in before the collision, you have to have enough intestinal fortitude about you to come and get the first foul before the collision happens, if it’s obvious enough to get. That’s how I kind of see those. Take the obvious play, if that makes sense. If I’m in a crowd of 20,000 people, I’m going to call the play that 20,000 people saw. I’m taking the most obvious play.


REFEREE: How do officials keep both the primary offensive player and the primary defensive player in mind when there’s so much activity going on around the basket? You’ve got an engaged match, the primary, and then there’s all the players, there’s congestion, there’s so many bodies. How do you stay focused on just that one engaged matchup you need to have.

ADAMS: You’ve got to back up and get the best open view. Don’t close your view off. You want to get your open view and see as many players that’s going on. Again, take the people that can hurt you, referee the defense in those one-on-one situations. We have a lot of things that’s going on around them. You’ve got to be aware of everything that’s going on in an area. As an official, when I’m feeling in control, I’m aware of everything that’s happening. I know what defense they’re running, I know what offense they’re running, I know what they’re trying to do, I know whether they’re going to try to dribble drive or the type of style that this team is trying to do. For example, when I referee Arkansas, I know that they’re getting up and down the court. I know if I’m refereeing Kentucky they’re going to do a dribbler drive. I know if I’m refereeing a team like Florida, they’re going to play real good defense, zone match-ups type defense, going inside and out. You have to know everything that’s going on and what the teams are trying to accomplish. I refereed Wisconsin last year, so I know what they were trying to accomplish. They’re big, they’ve got these really big kids. I know that if Patric Young from Florida is setting up on one side to block and the ball is on that side of the block, I know he’s going to bring his butt on this side of the block. With that being said, knowing what the offense and defense are trying to do and understanding that helps me as far as refereeing those type plays when you have so much commotion going on. I was taught that the object of what we do is that we bring order to chaos. A basketball game is controlled chaos, so you have to bring order to that. I try to stay calm and know what’s going on, what the clocks, foul counts, what this coach is trying to do, what that coach is trying to do. It’s kind of more all the intangibles of what’s going on in the game. That’s just something you’ve got to do.


REFEREE: What’s the number one area of focus for you right now as we start the season?

ADAMS: For me it’s always traveling. I’m not the best person on traveling. I’m not good at splitting hairs. I don’t split hairs on travel. I’m working on picking up the pivot foot, which one is the pivot foot, and whether he slides it or moves it on the move. I’m working on traveling. That’s my area of concentration going into the year. And of course the points of emphasis, everything that they’ve been talking about inside there. I want to get better at traveling. The split travel is the new term that they’re using, and I want to get better at split travel.


REFEREE: What’s the most improved part of your officiating?

ADAMS: Probably going from U1 to referee or crew chief, learning from the older guys, the more experienced guys, and how they could conduct and manage a game. Managing the game is probably one of the things I’ve improved on the most. I learned from the veteran guys that I’ve worked with, just watching them, asking questions and things like that. Managing a game and becoming a crew chief.


REFEREE: What’s the best pregame you’ve ever been involved with and why?

ADAMS: A pregame that starts in the car. Normally two officials riding in a car together. The best pregames start in the car, and the reason why is because you start talking about what the teams are going to be trying to accomplish. For example, if I’m doing a team from out west that I don’t normally do but one of the other referees in the car has, they start to talk about what this team is trying to accomplish, or what that team is trying to accomplish, who to look for, who the troublemakers are, who are the scorers, who are the key players, what is the coach’s personality like, is he good to work toward things like that. Ones that start in the car on the way to the game and continue into the locker room, and as we continue the conversation, not so much as a sit down with your board type pregame. Those are the best pregames, as we talk in conversation and what we’re trying to do in the game, things like that.


REFEREE: Bennie Adams, your cousin and NBA referee, how does that relationship help you?

ADAMS: He still helps me to this day. I know that when he watches me, he’s going to give me an honest critique, and he’s not going to spare my feelings. He’ll tell me exactly what he thinks, and we still do it today. He lives in California, I live in Mobile, Alabama, and we still do it today when we see each other. After my Final Four game he called and asked me about a particular play in the second half with six minutes and thirty seconds to go. What were you looking at, if you stand further to the left on that play you’re not going to get straight lines. He’s still coaching, and he doesn’t bullshit. That’s the best thing about that.

Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the April 2015 issue of Referee Magazine.)

May. 2013 Officiating In Perspective with Barry Mano

13 Immutable Laws of Officiating

Drawn from his Publisher’s Memo in the May 2013 issue of Referee magazine, Barry Mano identifies 13 Immutable Laws of Officiating — those factors that define courses of action.


Dec. 2014 Officiating in Perspective with Barry Mano

Hiding in ‘Plane’ Sight

Plane rides used to offer periods of solace for Referee magazine Publisher Barry Mano. These days, seatmates are quick to ask questions about the world of officiating. In fact, there’s a new openness permeating sports conversations — including on rules and officiating — and that’s putting sports officials in a new and potentially uncomfortable role. In his Publisher’s Memo from the December 2014 issue of Referee, Mano weighs in on those new responsibilities.


Referee | December 2014 | Publisher’s Memo



How to Give Accurate Evaluations

You’ve been asked to evaluate a fellow official and have been given an evaluator’s checklist. In many instances checklists offer only a limited perspective on how officials perform. The trouble is that listed characteristics are often too general and don’t reveal specific officiating actions in a contest. There are specific things you can do to improve your evaluating.

Use descriptions. An evaluation or observation report must describe, and doing that requires more than a traditional number system, which can be rather vague. Descriptions should be done in neutral phrasing, using non-opinionated terminology and avoiding critical remarks as much as possible. When officiating judgments are part of the picture, the description should be couched in tentative terms, such as, “You appeared to call strikes on pitches that may have been high in the strike zones of shorter hitters.” (Using you means that the evaluation report will be produced for the official as well as an administrative entity.)

Keep score. An observer can itemize behavior by making a tally of the way an official operated. If you’re in a good position to evaluate strike calls, say directly behind home plate, you can “keep score” by tracking pitches that either seem accurately called or else seem off the mark. Charting would also reveal patterns of an umpire’s judgment: missing low pitches, expanding the strike zone beyond the outside corner and so on.

Charting can be done in other sports as well. Keep track of how many times a football wing official adopted a progress spot on running plays by moving downfield parallel to the play and pivoting at a 90-degree angle to identify a dead-ball spot. In basketball, record how often a referee got caught trailing a fast break by several yards. Signals can also be described.

If isolated behavior needs recording, that can be done in narrative language: “With two minutes left in the first quarter, the referee and umpire conferred for 38 seconds before administering a penalty for holding.”

Give positive reinforcement. At upper levels of officiating, observers often try to record many more positive behaviors than negative ones. Part of objective evaluating is to reinforce correct officiating. With narrative descriptions, you can explain how an official appears to adopt the correct positioning before play, how he or she moves according to action and if the official seems to be looking in the proper places to execute judgments.

Share it. Should you share an evaluation with the person being observed? If you don’t, there’s little hope for improvement. Plus, a secret evaluation will likely be resented. Sharing a summary of patterns allows the official to reflect on the observations, moving the recipient to counter the perceptions or accept the evaluation as a positive stimulus for change.

Written by Jerry Grunska, a retired educator who lives in Evergreen, Colo. He officiated football for more than 40 years. This column originally appeared in the 11/04 issue of Referee.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

There’s No ‘I’ in Crew

“Perception is reality.” When it comes to officiating team sports, that’s often the absolute truth. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re officiating, crew cohesion is a must if your crew is to be perceived positively. Another absolute truth is that when everyone isn’t on the same page, it doesn’t take players, coaches and fans long to recognize that “tonight’s officials are struggling.”

The best officiating crews take the field or floor as one official. They know that the only philosophy that matters is the crew’s philosophy. They’ve invested time together away from the sport. They know each other, respect each other’s judgment and approach the game with confidence. Because there is no room for “the individual,” they’ve worked hard to create a team approach.

No crew establishes a quality reputation quickly. It takes time. Only after working many games together, suffering through mistakes and sharing the highs and lows of several seasons, can a crew establish itself as one that can be counted upon to work the big games consistently.

We’ve all seen the football crews that have one official who throws many more flags than his partners. His definition of fouls is different from the other officials’. Then there’s the basketball ref who calls a close game while her partners “let them play.” The perception those officials are sending is that not only are they not on the same page, they haven’t even entered the library together. It’s a recipe for disaster.

If you’re not in that situation and never have been, don’t get cocky because it’s only a replacement official away! As you work toward cohesion, thorough pregame sessions are essential. But even with plenty of game preparation and years of experience, every crew and official eventually runs into a situation in which there is disagreement. It’s how the team handles it that makes the difference. If you disagree with a call a crewmember makes during the game, discuss it at halftime or after the game. Let each member of the crew weigh in.

Confrontation leads to expression and allows officials to develop a closer understanding of each other’s priorities – get a better idea of what makes each other tick. Knowing how and why your fellow officials may react to situations allows you to relate to each other instinctively. Any psychiatrist will tell you that understanding others is key to effective communication! Even if you don’t build a campfire and sing Kumbaya together, those situations can serve as defining moments in the development of your crew’s ability to relate to one another more effectively.

It’s important to know that the other officials on the field or court are with you in every sense of the word. It’s not enough to just wear the same clothes, you’ve got to take the time and make sure everything fits! Your performance and your crew’s reputation will benefit from the extra effort.

Written by John Jay Stone, a high school football official from Swanton, Ohio.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Practice Proper Preparation

Your game assignment actually begins well in advance of game day. Here is a list of important things to do as the assignment approaches:

Verify the assignment. At the very least, call the school within a week or so of the game. Talk to the person (usually the athletic director) who catches the heat if the officials don’t show. Don’t just leave a voice mail that says you’re coming because you can’t be sure what a lack of response means.

Confirm the time and location of the game and any special conditions that will exist. If you can, exchange cell phone numbers with the game manager, so you can inform each other of any last-minute problems all the way up to game time.

Firm up your travel arrangements. My football crew makes up a spreadsheet that includes the driver, the meeting point, who will provide the snacks and so on. Then I confirm each week’s plan as one of the last things we do before we part company after the previous game. The good crew chief also insists that the whole crew has each other’s cell phone numbers.

Check your equipment. Never trust anyone else to pack your gear for you. Check everything in your bag well ahead of time in case something needs mending or cleaning. A good approach, if somebody besides you washes your uniform, is to have the person return it fresh from the dryer so you can check, fold and account for it going into your bag yourself.

Do some homework. Opinions vary on how much you should find out about the teams before the game. You owe it to them and yourself to have at least some idea of how competitive and skillful it will be, plus what’s on the line for each team. Conversely, you don’t want to have so thick a book on the teams that you anticipate things that don’t actually occur.

Check the weather on game day. If a monsoon or blizzard is in the forecast, consider padding your travel plans. Remember that one person’s short sleeve weather is another person’s visit to the South Pole. Get to the crew ahead of time to agree on dress and an updated travel plan well in advance.

Physically prepare. Each person has his or her own standard for sleep and food intake before a game. The best plan is to stick to it. Don’t experiment the night before the championship game, especially when you travel to a place where the water or menu is likely to be different from what you’re used to.

Adjust your workout routine and preparation as the season progresses. Watch for the signs of feeling stiffer and less flexible that come when you’re working too much. Allow yourself more recovery time. It’s easier to stay in shape than get back in shape with each passing year.

In all your preparations for an assignment, bear in mind a sure way to ruin a reputation is to miss an assignment in a way that was avoidable. Never assume details. Look after yourself and you’ll be a long way toward being the type of official who keeps getting invited back.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, is a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Locked Out

By Jeffrey Stern (Published in the January 2013 issue of Referee Magazine)

*To view the magazine-formatted version of the Lockout story, click HERE

Late on the evening of Sept. 24, 2012, three men enjoy a nightcap at a New York City hotel. On the TV, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers are battling it out on “Monday Night Football.” The trio — Scott Green and Jeff Triplette, NFL referees and the president and vice president, respectively, of the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) and Mike Arnold, the group’s legal counsel — are taking a break from discussions with the NFL aimed at ending the three-month-old lockout of NFL officials.

Their casual discussion comes to a halt when, on the screen, the game ends with one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. Replacement officials rule a simultaneous catch, giving a touchdown to Seattle rather than an interception to Green Bay. Within seconds, their cell phones are buzzing with calls from NFLRA members watching the game, certain that the egregiously incorrect call will hasten their return to the field.

They also take a call from the NFL, confirming that negotiations will resume in the morning. Two days later, the sides reach a tentative agreement on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA), ending the lockout.
Here is how it all went down.

The Negotiations

Triplette spoke exclusively to Referee on the record on behalf of the union. Jeff Pash, NFL executive vice president and chief legal counsel, presented the league’s viewpoint. It was one of few interviews he granted.

The two sides began formal negotiations in October 2011. Triplette said the existing CBA called for talks to begin in the spring of 2011, but at that time the league’s focus was on agreeing to a CBA with the NFL Players Association. “When they got that settled in the summer (of 2011),” Triplette said, “we finally got together for our first session.”

Lead negotiators for the officials were Triplette; Green; Arnold; Tim Millis, NFLRA executive director; and back judge Tony Steratore, who serves on the association’s board and its negotiating committee.

Representing the NFL were Pash; Ray Anderson, executive vice president of football operations; David Gardi, NFL legal counsel; F. David Coleman, director of officiating; and Doug O’Connell, vice president of compensation and benefits. Carl Johnson, vice president of officiating, was not part of the negotiating team because it is not part of his duties. “Similar to coaches not negotiating player contracts,” explained Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications.

Others, including Commissioner Roger Goodell and representatives of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, sat in at various times as well.

Pash also represented the league in the two previous negotiations with the NFLRA. The last CBA, signed in 2006, was achieved with relative ease. The 2012 situation was similar to 2001, when the league locked out the officials and replacements took the field.

“The thing about 2001 is it was overshadowed by the (9/11) terrorist attacks,” Pash said. “We had the terrorist attacks early in the regular season, then we took a week off, and … in that two-week interim, we reached an agreement with the (NFLRA) to bring them back.”

As in any CBA, compensation was a part of the 2012 discussions. In particular, the officials’ game fees and the type of pension were at issue. But that was the tip of the iceberg.

“Economic issues tend to dominate the discussion, on the outside, at least,” Pash said. “But from the perspective of the owners, the non-economic issues were actually more important. Those included things like the proposal we had to hire some number of full-time officials (and) the proposal we had to hire additional officials to sort of serve as a bench, if you will, as a training development tool.”

The “reserve squad” was a contentious issue. According to profootballtalk.com (PFT), Anderson broached the topic at a Sept. 4 meeting with NBC producers and broadcasters.

Arnold responded to that report by contacting PFT via email. “The concept of hiring an additional 21 officials was raised for the first time by the NFL by a letter dated July 19, 2012,” Arnold wrote. “It proposed that the NFL could hire 21 additional officials but not pay them — it wants the current 121 officials to pay them. This is not fair or reasonable and demonstrates that it is a negotiating ploy not a serious proposal.”

The NFLRA also desired codification of issues apart from finances. “We spent a good bit of time talking about the training program that had started under Bill Lovett, and preserving and enhancing that program for existing officials,” Triplette said.

The training program is under the auspices of nine former NFL officials, covering each officiating position and representing a combined 265 years of total service. Prominent on the training staff are legendary referees Jerry Markbreit and Red Cashion.

“All of these retired NFL officials were kind of a confidential training resource for officials on the field,” Triplette said. “So that if you had a problem or you wanted to talk to someone that wasn’t a supervisor and evaluating you, there were some folks that had great expertise. We wanted to be able to continue that program.”

While Triplette said the league didn’t indicate it wanted to eliminate the trainers, there was discussion about modifying the program.

“The league felt, ‘If we’re paying for this, we at least ought to have some input into who the trainers are,’” Triplette said. “They had some ideas how they wanted it to evolve, and of course we had some other ideas. Our big one was to preserve the confidentiality, and make sure there were no written reports. The training program was not something that would be used to figure out how you terminate somebody.”

Another sticking point was an NFLRA proposal to remove Goodell from the loop when it comes to disputes involving officials.

“The commissioner … has a very significant authority with respect to disciplinary matters, and with respect to dispute resolution,” Pash said. “There were proposals basically to eliminate that authority or very sharply limit it in certain contexts. That was something that was just not going to be acceptable to our ownership, because they felt as though everyone should be operating under a common set of rules — owners, coaches, team staff and game officials. They were not prepared to change that simply for one category of employee, so that was a significant issue that we had to work our way through.”

The sides met periodically throughout the fall and winter. Storm clouds began to form in spring of 2012. The NFLRA negotiating committee met with owners Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons), Bob McNair (Houston Texans) and Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs).

“The meeting didn’t last very long,” Triplette recalled. “Both sides had stated their positions, and at that point it looked like we were pretty far apart on some pretty significant issues.”
The CBA expired on May 31. The lockout was on.

The Replacements

The NFL began looking for replacements before the lockout began. ESPN reported that Ron Baynes, officiating recruitment coordinator, sent an email to scouts on May 3, directing them to contact collegiate officials who had either retired or who had not been rehired by their leagues, or other potential candidates. Ironically, Baynes was looking to hire officials to step in for his sons, Rusty and Allen, who were among the locked-out NFL officials.

According to Aiello, “We began the process of hiring and training replacements to ensure that there would be no disruption to NFL games. … The non-union officials were all experienced football officials at various levels.”

Before the season, Green gave a warning. He told USA Today, “The folks that are going to be on the field are not NFL-quality officials that fans, players and coaches are used to seeing. … If calls aren’t being made, there will probably be additional things going on out on the field and that potentially could lead to … player-safety issues.”

Most of the replacements in 2001 were officials from the major collegiate conferences. The NFL could not dip into those ranks this time, in large measure because several of the coordinators of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences are current or former NFL officials. To assist the NFL by signing on as a replacement would mean losing 2012 assignments and possibly beyond.

Each replacement signed an officiating agreement dated June 2, 2012, that included the following provisions:

  • $5,000 if the official attended league training clinics, passed a physical and passed a background check.• $500 per day for each clinic or training camp session attended.
  • $2,000 per preseason game. An official who worked a preseason game was guaranteed three more game fees. (For the regular season, replacements signed a different contract. Game fees for the regular season were raised to $3,500 for referees, $3,000 for the other six officials and $2,000 for alternates.)
  • Coach airfare, ground transportation, hotel rooms and $75 per diem.
  • Two tickets per game.
  • Two hats, two shirts (one long-sleeved, one short-sleeved), one pair of officiating pants, a pair of shoes, flags and beanbags. (The agreement specified the replacements were to return those items when their employment ended. The league later rescinded that order.)

In July, the NFL conducted three training clinics for the replacements, two in Dallas, one in Atlanta. There were approximately 300 applicants.

Starting with the preseason, to help the replacements navigate the NFL’s complicated penalty enforcements and timing rules, the league put an eighth official, another replacement, on the sideline. Information and instruction from a member of the NFL officiating department stationed in the press box was relayed to the onfield officials through the alternate, who was outfitted with a headset.

When training camps opened, the NFL issued a memo to players, coaches and other team personnel that it was “imperative that your entire staff welcomes these officials and provides them with an environment that maximizes their training opportunities and encourages their development.” The memo also had talking points — scripted responses — that could be used when comments on the lockout were sought by the media.

Criticism of the replacements began right after the preseason opener. In an interview on WSCR-AM in Chicago, Fox Sports officiating analyst and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira had pointed comments about one referee in particular.

“They’ve tried to say that Craig Ochoa, who worked the (Hall of Fame) game, was a (major college) official, that he worked in the Big Ten,” Pereira said. “He didn’t work in the Big Ten. He’s not been a major college official.”

Ochoa is the highway commissioner for the township of Hanover, Ill. His biography on its website lists him as a “professional football and basketball referee working mostly in the Big 10 Football Conference.”

The Big Ten Conference confirmed that Ochoa was never a member of its football officiating staff.

Aiello told ESPN that the replacements “have backgrounds similar to current NFL officials.”

Arnold, in the same story, disputed those assertions: ”It is unfortunate that as referees’ responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games.”

Pereira added that further proof of Ochoa’s unfitness to work in the NFL was that he had been fired from the Lingerie Football League (LFL), a circuit featuring scantily clad women playing an indoor version of the game. LFL Commissioner Mitchell Mortaza didn’t name names but released a statement that read in part, “Due to several onfield occurrences of incompetent officiating, we chose to part ways with a couple (officials who) apparently are now officiating in the NFL.”

Another hire that raised eyebrows  was the selection of Shannon Eastin, who became the first woman to officiate an NFL game. In her 16 years as an official, the highest level she had worked was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a Football Championship Subdivision league one step below the Football Bowl Subdivision.

But what alarmed many was the fact that Eastin was a professional gambler. She had participated in a number of tournaments, including a 17th-place finish in an event during the 2007 World Series of Poker. The CBA that expired in May included a prohibition against gambling by officials. The subject was not covered in the agreement with replacements. But in this post-Tim Donaghy world, the idea of even a replacement official with a gambling history led many to question whether Eastin should be working in the NFL.

The league was aware of Eastin’s gambling. Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, told PFT, “Past participation in an event such as a poker tournament does not disqualify a person from consideration as an NFL official.”

Two other officials came under fire for perception problems. Jeff Sadorus worked a Seattle game although he had been on the team’s payroll as an official for scrimmages. There is no evidence that Sadorus showed favoritism to the Seahawks in the game. Brian Strapolo was pulled from his New Orleans-Carolina assignment on gameday because his Facebook page indicated he was an unabashed Saints fan.

Referee requested an interview with the NFL’s Anderson for information on the selection, training and qualifications of the replacements, but the request was declined.

The Regular Season

The replacements received kudos from the top for their work in the first week of the regular season. “Our officials did a more than adequate job last night,” Goodell said after the Thursday night season opener. “I think we’ve proven we can train officials, get them up to NFL standards, and we’ve done that in a three-month period. These officials will get even better as time goes by.”

As the rest of the first week played out, TV announcers, while not effusive in their praise, did not heap criticism on the replacements, either. After the lockout ended, however, at least one analyst said that was by design.

On Dan Patrick’s radio show, Fox’s John Lynch said the NFL encouraged broadcast teams to “go easy” on the officials. “I know Week 1 the league kind of duped every network and called and said, ‘Hey we’re close to a deal so have your guys go easy,’” Lynch said. “And so that was kind of the edict from up top.”

But as the season progressed and the lockout dragged on, the era of good feeling came to an abrupt halt. Calls were dissected, scrutinized and ultimately demonized by fans, media, coaches and players.

Emotions boiled over during games on Sept. 23. New England Coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 for making contact with an official following his team’s loss to Baltimore and Washington Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan was fined $25,000 for chasing officials off the field after the Redskins’ loss to Cincinnati. Other coaches were shown on telecasts berating officials, though none was fined.

That led the league to issue a memo reminding teams that unsportsmanlike conduct would not be tolerated. Anderson told ESPN, “We contacted them to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game. We expect it to be adhered to this weekend and forevermore.”

Play became increasing rough in the intervening weeks. Some of the hits were flagged and others were not. The perceived inability of the replacements to control the games led the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to send two letters to the league, urging a resolution to the lockout.

A letter to Pash dated Sept. 5 from Tom DePaso, NFLPA general counsel, asserted the NFLRA would “take appropriate action to protect our members” if the union determined the replacements could not ensure the health and safety of the players.

A second missive, titled, “Your Lockout of the NFL Referees and the Negative Impact on Football,” was posted Sept. 23. NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth and New Orleans quarterback and NFLPA vice president Drew Brees were among those signing the letter, which read in part, “Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity.”

The NFL’s Johnson declined a request to discuss the evaluation and performance of the replacements. However, Pash said the league was pleased. “Our own perception is that the replacements performed really in an entirely satisfactory way, and about what you would expect,” he said. “I think no one could have possibly expected them to perform at the level of the regulars. We certainly didn’t.”

The Salvos

Pash and Triplette acknowledged the negotiations had a sharper, nastier edge than those in 2006. “Sometimes in a negotiation things get said, and you probably wish they hadn’t been said,” Triplette said. “I think both sides probably had some of those on occasion.”

For the most part, NFLRA members avoided public comment on all things lockout. “We decided early on that it was probably best that Mike Arnold be the principal spokesperson for us,” Triplette said. “We made sure that those were strategic in nature and very specific when we wanted to have that happen,” Triplette added. “It’s more or less along the lines of controlling the message that we wanted to convey, and having a single person do that for us.“

The NFL wanted the nine position trainers — Markbreit, Cashion, Ron Botchan, Ben Montgomery, Dean Look, Tom Fincken, Bill Schmitz, Jim Quirk and Sid Semon — to assist in the clinics. But when they refused out of loyalty to the NFLRA members, they were told their services were no longer needed.

When word of that action broke, Markbreit was besieged by interview requests. The trainers are not voting NFLRA members and thus had no official spokesman. Markbreit became the de facto voice of the trainers as well as the union and sharply criticized the league for the lockout. His strongest comments appeared in an interview with USA Today published Sept. 21. Markbreit said the replacements’ inability to keep games under control jeopardized player safety. “My only conclusion,” Markbreit said, “is that (NFL executives) just don’t care.”

Negative comments were being issued by the league as well. PFT reported that at the aforementioned September meeting with TV personnel, Anderson claimed some officials become complacent once they know they won’t get a postseason assignment and that, while some officials are in condition when the season begins, they gain weight and fall out of shape by the end.

Anderson wrote a guest editorial for the Sept. 26 edition of USA Today. Anderson offered that the “short-term discomfort” caused by the player lockout of 2011 led to a harmonious settlement. “We have approached the dispute with the game officials union with a similar game plan to achieve long-term stability and improve our officiating,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson took aim at the NFLRA members when he added, “No one wants to see the outcome of a game determined by an official’s call, but it has happened several times in the past. Officiating is never perfect.”

On Sept. 24, it was far from perfect, and it resulted in the most talked-about and debated call in recent memory.

The Call

Week 3 of the season concluded with that nationally televised game between Green Bay and Seattle. Green Bay held a 12-7 lead with eight seconds remaining in the game. Seattle had the ball, fourth and 10, at the Packer 24 yardline.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took a shotgun snap, dropped back, then sprinted to his left. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, he heaved a pass to the end zone. In football parlance, it’s known as a Hail Mary: throw the ball and pray a teammate catches it.

In the end zone were four Green Bay defenders and two Seattle receivers. As the ball neared the cluster of players, Seattle’s Golden Tate gave Packer Sam Shields a two-handed shove from behind, sending Shields to the ground. Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings, the player in the rear of the grouping, leaped and got his hands on the ball. Tate in effect caught Jennings, wrapping his arms around the opponent and getting at least a partial grip on the ball.

Side judge Lance Easley arrived at the pile a few seconds ahead of back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn. Easley looked at the pile, glanced at Rhone-Dunn and threw his hands in the air to signal a touchdown. At the same instant, Rhone-Dunn gave the stop-the-clock signal. While time had expired, that signal is proper when an official believes he and a crewmate need to confer before arriving at a decision. Bedlam broke out with Jennings and Tate still grappling while Seattle players swarmed the end zone to congratulate their teammate.

Instant replay is used on all scoring plays; thus, the call was subject to being reversed. However, referee Wayne Elliott determined there was no indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call on the field. The touchdown stood and Seattle won.

The NFL released a statement three days after the game, affirming the call but noting that Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference for shoving Shields.

Despite the NFL’s affirmation, few non-Seahawk fans believed it was a correct call. For the next 48 hours, it was impossible to watch TV, pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio without seeing or hearing about the call.

Not only was Easley seen over and over covering the play, he later made appearances on The NFL Today and the Today Show. Any time he has been interviewed, he has maintained his call was correct.

The national outrage reached a fever pitch. Ending the lockout became not so much a wish as a demand.

The Agreement

Negotiations had been ongoing for more than a week before a final deal was struck.

“We had been meeting I would say for the better part of 10 days,” Pash said, “close to on a daily basis, either meeting or phone conversations. My own feeling is that we were very likely — not 100 percent — but we were very likely to come to an agreement that week.”

Triplette agreed, saying, “We were in very sensitive negotiations prior to that Monday night. … We were on the road to probably reaching an agreement. Was it the agreement that we ended up with? That’s hard to say.”

In a nutshell, these are the key points of the new CBA:

  • Five-year continuation of the defined benefit retirement plan.
  • A ratification bonus of $2.5 million to be distributed based on seniority, either as a 401k deposit or cash. The payment equaled what the league saved by using non-union officials.
  • An average defined contribution of $22,000, based on seniority, starting in 2017 and continuation of the current 401k match contribution of $3,750 per year.
  • Hiring of seven NFLRA members as full-time employees. “In terms of who the full-time officials will be, that’s up in the air,” Pash said. “I don’t know who they are at this point. I would expect it’s much more likely that it will be implemented for the 2013 season.”
  • Continuation of the trainer program in its previous form.
  • Formation of a labor-management team to handle disputes and work together on officiating improvement.

There will be a “reserve list” of officials, but they will be officials identified as future prospects. Triplette said the idea of sitting “struggling” officials died. “Officials don’t get better sitting on the sidelines. You also don’t sit down Peyton Manning when he throws three interceptions. When it got serious in the last week, I think the commissioner came to the realization that we, just like him, want to see the game get better. There are ways we can do this without using a hammer.”

The agreement is for eight years, longer than any previous CBA. Both sides see benefits in that.

“The league wanted a longer term deal than we wanted, but we got some things that we wanted in exchange for that longer term deal,” Triplette said. “The league has … stability, and our members have stability in knowing this thing is not going to last just five or six years.”

Said Pash, “We’re more and more moving toward longer term deals with key partners and participants in our business. I think, frankly, we would’ve signed a longer deal if they had wanted to. It would give us enough time so that everyone could get their blood pressure back to a normal level before we had to gear up for another round of negotiations, and also because we had a longer term deal it allowed us to say to our ownership, we can go another year or so on maintaining the pension plan in place to allow a longer period of time to transition out.”

The league was able to get the NFLRA to back off its demand that Goodell be taken out of the officials’ discipline loop. Triplette said the union wanted those cases heard by someone more independent of the league heirarchy as opposed to the man at the top. But practicality ruled the day in that case. “The commissioner said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re spending time on this. I’ve been the commissioner six years and I’ve never heard one of these grievances,’” Triplette recalled.

The CBA had yet to be approved by the NFLRA members, but the association’s board unanimously endorsed it. Goodell insisted that, in order to reach an accord, the regular officials had to work all Week 4 games, including the one the next night in Baltimore. That posed a potential problem for both sides. If the NFLRA did not ratify the CBA at its Sept. 28-29 meeting in Dallas, seven members would have worked while the others remained sidelined. The league could have faced a situation in which NFL officials worked one game but replacements worked the other 14. Moreover, with a Saturday vote, the league would not have had time to dispatch replacements to cover the remaining games.

Gene Steratore’s crew was assigned the Thursday game, in part because of proximity and convenience; he could drive from his home near Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Some other members of his crew, however, were unable to work due to business or other commitments. Several late-night phone calls were made and the openings were filled.

“(The NFL) had identified several crews that were in close proximity, where most of the crew members could probably get there on an early morning flight to get to the game site,” Triplette said.

Steratore and his crew were greeted with a thunderous standing ovation from more than 70,000 fans. Two days later, the officials approved the CBA by a 112-5 vote.

The replacements were paid for Week 4 despite the settlement. They returned home to work high school or college games. Many, like Easley, did interviews to describe the experience. When asked by The New York Times about the criticism heaped upon the replacements, Sadorus evoked a higher power. “Everyone wanted perfection,” he said, “but come on. The last guy who was perfect, they nailed to a cross. And he wasn’t even an official.”

The Aftermath

There was joy and relief among the officials that they were going back to work, but there was anger and bitterness as well. Anderson, whose comments throughout the lockout infuriated the NFLRA, was not greeted warmly in Dallas.

An official at the meeting, who requested anonymity, said Anderson’s comments kept the union unified and committed to its positions. And the hard feelings toward him will not go away any time soon.

“Ray spoke when we voted on the ratification and we came back on that Saturday morning for the vote,” the official said. “Immediately after the vote they had a mini clinic for a couple of hours. He spoke at the beginning of that clinic, and there was dead silence in the room. That tells you all you need to know.”

PFT reported it is likely Anderson will be reassigned and given different responsibilities which do not include officiating. Referee was unable to speak to Anderson to confirm or deny that report.

As in Baltimore on that Thursday night, fans in other cities greeted the regular officials with applause and signs welcoming them back. The Oct. 8 issue of Sports Illustrated heralded the settlement with a cover photo and feature story on uberbuff referee Ed Hochuli. The cover carried the line, “Oh, Now You Love Us.” Indeed, those inside and outside the game were pleased to see NFLRA members return to the field. From Triplette’s view, that includes the NFL.

“In my opinion, they have a better appreciation for what we do,” he said. “They were very complimentary even before the lockout of our work and what we do. It wasn’t that we were bad. In the end, everybody probably learned something out of this.

“We learned that we have to do a good job and a better job of not only working the game on the field, but also helping folks understand the difficulty of what our job is,” Triplette added. “It’s like in anything: When you do it well, folks get accustomed to you doing it well and they don’t appreciate how well someone does it until you don’t do it anymore.”

Jeffrey Stern is senior editor of Referee. He is a veteran high school and college football official.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Career Opportunities | Contact Us