An Open Cover Letter to the NFL, Re: Refereeing Opportunity

>> 7.18.2012


To Commissioner Roger Goodell, VP of Officiating Carl Johnson, and all relevant parties of the National Football League:

It has come to public attention you have locked out NFL officials in the course of your collective bargaining. This is, of course, your legal right in order to obtain a fair labor agreement for the coming years.

However, given the extreme specialization of the field, it's not surprising that, per Mike Freeman of, you're now reportedly scouting the ranks of retired, lower-division college and semi-pro officials to backfill in case of a prolonged work stoppage.

Your organization has rightly placed a strong public emphasis on the health and safety of its on-field employees. But to achieve this, you've asked officials to enforce a wide array of new regulations of on-field actions and techniques.

To turn that great responsibility over to "officials whose window of opportunity for advancement has pretty much closed but who have the ability to work higher levels but just got overlooked" doesn't resonate with your public message of safeguarding the lives and well-being of today's players.

Of course, the most-qualified, most competent candidates are the current NFL officials, and the officials attached to top-tier college conferences. By definition, you won't be able to find candidates who don't represent a significant drop-off in ability, experience or fitness. So, to stave off the coming storm of public opinion, I have a suggestion:

Sign me up.

In the tradition of George Plimpton, why not let a football writer don the tapered stripes of an NFL official? Why not let the public see exactly how difficult, strenuous and exacting the NFL's officiating standards are? Why not let an outsider chronicle the journey of preparation, testing and grading that all NFL refs go through?

Why not help the fans understand that refs aren't "blind," "crazy," "idiots," on the payroll of the other club or on the take from Vegas every time they kick a call—or get a tough call right against the home team?

I'm exceptionally well-qualified to be an unqualified participatory journalist. I've repeatedly called on the NFL to explain the lack of consistency on subjective calls like holding and face-masking. I've repeatedly called on the NFL to simplify, and improve enforcement of, the NFL Playing Rules and Casebook (which I've read all the way from the bit about what font the yard markers have to be painted in to the zillions of "Accepted Rulings" in the back).

I'm ready to put my money where my mouth is.

Messrs. Goodell and Johnson, this is a win-win scenario for you and the league. Not only would you have the opportunity to educate both myself and the public on the world-class standards you hold your officials to, you'll also gain leverage in your negotiations as the public applies pressure to the officials to keep replacement referees, like myself, off the field.

The most likely outcome, of course, is that I'd never take the field. During the last officials' work stoppage, in 2001, replacement refs oversaw just one week of preseason action before an agreement was reached. If history repeats itself, I'll be able to convey all of the above without ever having to blow a whistle in anger.

I deeply appreciate your time and consideration.


Ty Schalter


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