NFL opts against full-time officials, sources say

The NFL has declined an option to reinstate its full-time officiating program for 2020, the final decision in a series of previously unreported twists during the past four months, according to multiple sources.

As a result, officials will continue to work as part-time employees, a setback for many league decision-makers who view the program as a path toward better and more consistent officiating.

The league operated a full-time program for officials in 2017 and 2018 but shelved it for the 2019 season while negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Referees Association. The new deal, signed last fall, provided for the program to continue if the participants received salaries that were roughly commensurate with full-time officials in other sports leagues.

According to sources, the league activated its option in May to convert approximately 10 officials to full-time status. But last week, it informed the NFLRA that it had reversed the decision. The league cited costs in explaining the decision, according to NFLRA executive director Scott Green.

NFL officials work long hours during the season, including film study and conference calls while at home between games. But most hold second jobs and are away from football during a three-month “dark period” after the Super Bowl, a time when the full-time program could be used for development and training.

Even without converting some of its officials to full-time status, the NFL has significantly overhauled its officiating program this offseason. The league pushed senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron into a smaller role, where he will focus on the replay review system, and hired two new executives. Longtime coach Perry Fewell is responsible for day-to-day management of the department as the senior vice president of officiating administration. Retired referee Walt Anderson also filled a new senior vice president role, in charge of training and development.

Five on-field officials and two replay officials have opted out of the 2020 season as part of a pandemic-related agreement between the NFL and the NFLRA. The league is finalizing several replacement hires and has reorganized crews by geography in hopes of minimizing travel complications during the season. Officials will not make their usual visits to training camp.

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