If there’s talk today of anything other than the NFL schedule, the draft or Rob Gronkowski playing bunt-and-run with the Lombardi Trophy, it’s officiating.
It’s the topic that never has an offseason.
The NCAA basketball tournament, Stanley Cup playoffs, major-league baseball, you name it. It seldom takes a day off.
And so, in the wake of the NFL’s new expanded replay rule that makes pass interference subject to coaches’ challenges (otherwise known as the Sean Payton rule), we address the question that won’t go away.
Should NFL officials be full-time?
We posed it to former referee Ed Hochuli four months ago, and he was incredulous – basically saying that, in light of the hours they spend on the job each week, NFL officials ARE full time. But that won’t satisfy skeptics … or Saints’ fans.
So we asked FOX Sports rules analyst Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating from 2013-17, the same question … and let’s just say he had a different take on the subject.
“Full time ... I think it’s going to happen,” he said on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Having been a part of it … and understanding what Ed’s talking about … NFL officials spend more time on football than most people realize.
“As head of officiating, I always felt bad for their other employer because they were spending so much time on football it took them away from their other profession. (But) they’re not full time in the sense that Monday through Friday they’re in a facility and they’re looking at film or they’re working practice. It’s just that football is not set up that way.”
He’s right about that. Unlike major-league baseball, for instance, the NFL plays 16 regular-season games. Major-league baseball teams play 162. The NBA? Eighty-two. The NHL? Eight-two.
But pro football embraced instant replay as an officiating tool first, and with each step there are more calls for full-time officials – basically because each game is more meaningful … and because there are more calls that are sliced, diced and spliced by critics, gamblers or both.
And so, Blandino believes, there will be a change to officiating as we now know it.
“Traditionally, historically, you’re playing once a week,” he said of NFL games. “But baseball umpires and NBA referees … when they’re not working games, it’s not like they’re at the Celtics’ facility working practice or there in the offseason. No, they’re off. They just have more games to work.
“I think anytime you can give officials more hours, more reps, more looks at video, (and) I think that’s good. I just don’t ever envision … they’re never going to be full-time in that 9-to-5, Monday through Friday that type of thing. But I do think there are opportunities for NFL officials to do things in the offseason to help them get better.”
Follow Clark Judge on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF