If you are a fan of football you likely watch NFL referees in action every Sunday. Though the vast majority of fans do not know the path these referees take in order to get themselves into these games.
Interestingly just like NFL players referees are also scouted. The NFL themselves have a team of scouts that travel throughout the country searching for officiating talent.
These scouts watch these referees perform and determine if they have the skillset that may one day lead them into officiating at the NFL level. If these officials display the skills and traits that these scouts are looking for they will be added into an officiating database.
Once in this database, the NFL scouts will be consistent in keeping up with the progress of these officials. At this point, the officials will be promoted into higher leagues based on their performances.
In total there is roughly 4,000 officials across the country that are in this officiating scouting database.
On top of the scouting that is done by the NFL there are several different officiating development programs that are utilized by the league.
These programs work to bring high-level college officials and ex-players to the NFL officiating team.
Officiating Development Program
This is the first of two development programs we are going to cover in this article. The officiating development program or ODP for short is the most common way officials will make their way into the NFL.
First off amongst the 4,000 officials, only a small number are accepted into this program with only 48 referees being selected in 2020.
The selection process to enter this program is quite rigorous. Most of these officials are selected from the major college conferences as this is where the highest level of officiating talent tends to referee.
In order to be accepted into this program the referees must pass through several tests. These include a medical examination, a background check, and an in person interview with a panel of NFL Officiating Department staff.
Though once you are accepted the work is not over. These referees under development must commit to large number of responsibilities before making the jump to the NFL.
First the officials in the program must attend the NFL’s annual preseason officiating clinic. It is here that these officials will go over the rules, namely the difference between the NCAA and NFL rules.
They then must particiapte in NFL training camps and minicamps. Oftentimes in scrimmages the teams will use these officials to call the game as if it were live. This offers valuable practice to the officials and players.
The developmental officials must then officiate a preseason game as well as an NCAA post-season all star game.
Making The Call
Once all these tasks have been completed the NFL will look over the body of work of each official and give them a rating.
The ratings of these officials are broken down into three separate categories.
- Ready For The Highest Level
- Room To Improve
- Not The Right Fit
The highest rating of course is “ready for the highest level”. If an official wants to be an NFL referee he/she will be well on their way if they earn this rating.
This means that the official has displayed all the required skills to referee at the NFL level. If there is an open vacancy on an officiating team then a spot will be given to an official who has earned this rating.
If there are no open spots the referee will continue reffing in college until a spot opens up. Keep in mind most of these officials will not start as a referee but rather one of the other official positions such as side judge or back judge.
If you earn the “room to improve” rating your goal of becoming an NFL referee is not over. This rating simply means you need to continue to hone your skills to reach the next level.
These officials will remain in the program and will have a chance to improve their rating the next year.
The final rating we are going to cover is not the right fight. If an official in the program has this rating their chances at an NFL reffing career are more or less done. These players will no longer be in the program and will go back to officiating college games.
Legends Officiating Development Program
On top of the regular development program, there is another option for ex NFL players. If ex-players are looking to become NFL officials the NFL has made this development program for exactly that purpose.
Being around the game for so many years offers these players a unique look into what goes on in the NFL. In order to take advantage of this experience the legends officiating development program works to turn ex-players into NFL officials.