Jul 11, 2018 8:40 AM - 6 days, 18 hours, 3 minutes, 35 seconds ago
A new anxiety is filtering through the NFL's officiating ranks. The first training camp opens in 10 days. Preseason games are less than a month away. There has been unprecedented turnover among referees, including two unexpected retirements last month. And because of late approval from owners, hardly any of the league's 121 officials have been briefed in detail on a series of rule changes that will require fundamental changes in the way they administrate games.
That confluence will make for a hectic three days this weekend in Dallas, where senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron will lead the league's annual officiating clinic. Some of the apprehension will be soothed there, but even informed observers worry that the NFL is asking too much of the department, given the circumstances.
In short, the NFL will navigate the biggest collection of rule changes in recent memory this year with one of its least experienced groups of officials ever.
"To be quite honest," former NFL officiating supervisor Jim Daopoulos said, "I have a concern about the level of officiating because of the inexperience out there and with the new rule changes. You've got so many things that the young officials are going to have to learn and the veteran officials are going to have to learn.
"It's going to be a very interesting year, and I think Al Riveron has really got his hands full. It's going to be really tough. You think about the experience he's lost this year and trying to replace these guys, it's going to make for some tough Sundays watching football."
The NFL did not respond to a request for comment from Riveron, who is scheduled to speak with reporters on Friday in Dallas. Officials themselves are barred from speaking with reporters. But former referee Terry McAulay, who retired last month to join NBC Sports, said the concern is real.
"These are probably the most significant rule changes I've seen in my career in one season," McAulay told ESPN.
Four referees retired this spring, the most in one offseason in league history, according to research by Football Zebras. The NFL was expecting two: Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette. Both spoke privately about it for months. They were replaced quickly by Shawn Hochuli and Alex Kemp; each is the son of a referee -- Ed Hochuli and Stan Kemp -- and have long been earmarked as future referees.
According to sources, however, NBC approached multiple NFL referees about a job in late spring that its executives felt was essential to broadcasting football games: a rules expert. Clete Blakeman turned down an offer. McAulay, 58, accepted. CBS had reached a similar conclusion. Within days, it hired Gene Steratore.
Suddenly, two of the NFL's most respected referees were gone in McAulay and Steratore. There is no evidence to suggest either was upset or otherwise fleeing an untenable situation. If anything, McAulay said, ...
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