An NFL rules analyst agrees with a point Aaron Rodgers made on why NFL officiating tends to suffer.
It was overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers talking about his plans to go into a sensory-deprivation tank (or something like that) prior to making any big decisions this offseason, but the star quarterback raised a point that is gaining some traction around the NFL: There’s a problem with the league’s investment in officiating.
NFL referees and officials play a crucial part in the game. Impartial to the outcome, they are the only thing ensuring games are played fairly and without compromise to the rules so that outcomes aren’t on scales tilted by anything other than talent and preparation.
Unfortunately, though, there is a massive incentive for the league’s best officials to take higher-paying jobs as television analysts because the NFL doesn’t have a similar-paying role available as an executive in the league office. Even though NFL officials are paid fairly well, the broadcasting money is huge.
Here’s what Rodgers said on the Pat McAfee podcast, H/T NY Post:
“Listen, the best refs we’ve had in the league are on TV now,” Rodgers said. “They’re not working in the league office. They’re on TV. Gene Steratore, my favorite ref of all-time. I think one of the best guys at understanding how to interact with guys and how to communicate with them, and then how to control a game without being a part of it. Gene was incredible at that, but Gene is on TV now. Why? Because they pay more.
“Terry McAulay, also a fantastic referee. He’s not working as the head of refs for the league office. He’s on TV. John Parry, another great referee. What is he doing? He’s working on TV. All of these guys who were fantastic whitecaps, and all who’ve left in probably the last five years. You’ve had eight or nine really good whitecap longtime referees. Are any of them working at the league office? No.”
One NFL ref turned broadcaster agrees with Aaron Rodgers
Mike Pereira, who is one of the four broadcasting rules analysts, spoke on the matter in response to Rodgers’ comments. Also per the NY Post, here’s what Pereira said:
“He has a point. I do feel that officiating is under-appreciated from the standpoint of the league. I think the job I had [as head of officiating] is the second-most important job in the league. I give Roger Goodell the No. 1 job, but I think what happens in officiating and the integrity of the game, I think that position is so important that if you get the right one you should do everything to not let them get away.”
“I don’t think it’s ever been looked at as a position, like the EVPs, in that top tier of executives, and I do think that’s where it belongs,” he said. “It’s not ever been that way, and it isn’t that way in the NBA and MLB and I think it should be.”
For what it’s worth, the NFL does have a position at the C-Suite level that is responsible for official training. That person is George Stewart. What Pereira is saying is that the perception of the role is that it’s lesser in importance than some of the other roles.
That tracks, because Stewart has no experience as an NFL referee or official. He comes from a coaching background, and when he was first hired his role was to help officials understand coaches and their roles at a deeper level, not to improve the quality of officiating itself.
But maybe there’s another reason. Perhaps the broadcasting gig is simply more enjoyable? Former referees get to sit in a booth or studio and utilize the years of knowledge they have built up studying the rulebook and help fans understand the game at a deeper level. That’s probably more gratifying than heading up the training and development of the game’s officials for the league’s best referees looking to move up a rung.
At any rate, to hear from two notable voices in the league, including one who spent some time officiating on the field, that the league doesn’t take such an important part of the game seriously enough is discouraging.