Game 150: A Week in the Life of an Officiating Crew
December 6, 2013 2:33 PM   Subscribe

The MMQB went behind the scenes with NFL referee Gene Steratore and his crew for an unprecedented look at the pressures and responsibilities of the third team on the field on NFL Sundays: the seven men in stripes who enforce the rules.
Part One: The Referee
Part Two: The Crew
Part Three: 24 hours of football: Saturday preparations and Game 150
posted by popechunk (20 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome. Thanks so much for posting it.
posted by Melismata at 2:41 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating. I'd read part one but hadn't gotten to 2 or 3 yet. Glad you posted it! It's amazing what they have to see on such short timing.
posted by Carillon at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2013

I absolutely cannot stand football, but I love all the lore surrounding it. This is great, thanks for posting it, I literally never would have seen it otherwise.

One question...I don't see what "MMQB" means, anywhere. Anyone?
posted by nevercalm at 3:18 PM on December 6, 2013

Monday morning quarterback, one who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight.
posted by zsazsa at 3:31 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Super interesting, thank you for finding it.
posted by Errant at 3:44 PM on December 6, 2013

I love football, even though I'm troubled by aspects of it and the veneration of it.

I also think this was a great series to show just how much prep those guys do for a nearly impossible part time job.
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:47 PM on December 6, 2013

Well, I'm happy to see this here, especially since I was up till 4am editing and producing Part Three. (toot toot.)
posted by stargell at 4:28 PM on December 6, 2013 [17 favorites]

I'd say that this really hits a new high for Peter King's MMQB project. I've read the column for a few years now but he's really giving unique insight into the game.

Mike Florio's reaction to the first part was really interesting - he considers the fixation on grading to be a massive systematic problem in officiating, and thinks that refs on the field should be supplemented by ones in a room with camera access to make sure all calls are right.

It's really amazing when you think that the referees are part-time employees who have other jobs, have to learn both the Byzantine NFL rulebook and the officiating handbook, and are then expected to get every call right from seven spots on the field. I think a war room could really help fix it.
posted by graymouser at 4:54 PM on December 6, 2013

Actually the two-sport ref is the guy in part 1 of this series. Gene Steratore. He is also the ref the NFL chose to officiate the first game after the official's strike last year cause they wanted the best in order to contrast with the horrible job the scabs had been doing. Very respected guy. Sometimes does college basketball and nfl the same week.
posted by umberto at 4:55 PM on December 6, 2013

Count me as another non-football fan who is nonetheless fascinated by the officiating aspects. Thanks for this!
posted by rtha at 5:47 PM on December 6, 2013

What amazes me (if I had to pick one thing) is that they all have second jobs. I would think they'd be compensated enough for a job as demanding as this seems. I play in basketball and soccer leagues and tournaments where the refs are just players from teams that have previously played, and I absolutely loathe when it's my turn to ref. I have serious analysis paralysis when calls can be made. I have so much respect for the folks that can do it well.
posted by snwod at 6:02 PM on December 6, 2013

My heart breaks for the decisions they have to make. Not the ones about whether an interception is good or not...but the very real decision between refereeing for the game and refereeing for the grades. Gene Steratore is living the essence of the agony of what passes for human resources management in this society. And he does it in front of millions of people a week.

Managing for the grade or managing for the game. It's an every-person story. And the decision most people are forced to make is killing our society.
posted by salishsea at 6:20 PM on December 6, 2013

That was a really gripping read--and I say that as someone with no interest whatsoever in football.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:27 PM on December 6, 2013

What amazes me (if I had to pick one thing) is that they all have second jobs. I would think they'd be compensated enough for a job as demanding as this seems.

The starting salary for an NFL referee is $78K, and they average around $200K. But they're part-time employees with practically no benefits (notably, no health insurance from the league), plus it takes a long time to get to the NFL level. The high school and college ranks obviously don't pay nearly that well, so they have real jobs while they officiate at those lower levels, and then they don't want to give up those jobs when they know that their time in the NFL can end just as quickly as a player's.
posted by Etrigan at 7:09 PM on December 6, 2013

High school football refs make between $40 and $75 per game, depending on the area. They have to pay for their own original certification course, yearly certification exams, and reffing clothes. Little less for elementary school games and rec league games, little more for playoff and tournament games.

It's not terrible money for a weekend job if you like the sport, but it's pretty brutal if you don't like youth football -- you're outside in rotten weather, there's a lot of running, the game is pretty terrible, the parents can get mean, the kids can cry. It's mostly men who do it and most of them are either young guys in their 20s who were sporty in high school and college and are coaching and reffing kids' leagues to keep it up (and will take a break when they have kids of their own and no longer have the free time), or retired guys who like the sport, like that being a ref keeps them active, like that they're contributing to the community, and like being around kids. There's only a really small handful who are hoping to move up to college ref work, and a smaller handful who want to graduate to pros.

Some of them only referee a sport they particularly love, but a lot of them referee year round and do multiple certification courses. You have all these football guys who'll do, like, water polo in the winter because there aren't enough water polo refs and they're happy to help where needed. (They also score-record for chess tournaments!) In rec league soccer and softball around here they can start when they're teenagers and sometimes you see 40-year-old parents screaming their heads off at teenaged refs for not reffing their 7-year-old's soccer game correctly. Harsh. Sometimes you see 16-year-old kids trying to umpire an adult rec-league softball game where all the adults are dead drunk.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:36 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was 13 or so and in Boy Scouts one of the dads was friends with an NFL ref. He came in and spoke to our troop. At first, I was all like "pffft whatever" because I thought football was dumb and the only thing I knew or heard about referees was the complaining you hear from fans. But when he started talking I immediately understood how sharp he was and how hard he and his colleagues work. This set of articles only solidifies what I learned in that talk.
posted by zsazsa at 8:57 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I finally finished all three articles, and that was really interesting -- although the game they're talking about is the one Bears game I missed this season, because the tornadoes knocked out our local CBS affiliate! I hadn't realized how much reviewing of the refereeing they do, or that the NFL "grades" the officials. That's really interesting.

I don't usually think a lot about the refs because I'm not a sophisticated enough football watcher to catch subtle things or close calls unless the nice announcers replay it in slo-mo and explain it, but during the 2012 referee lockout even a casual fan like me really noticed the difference in the quality of games with the less-experienced, lower-quality refs.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:32 AM on December 7, 2013

As a dedicated baseball fan, it sobers me somewhat to realize that if mlb officials were held to the same standard they would all be fired within the month. And there way fewer things to keep track of at one time. I guess that's part of the charm: constant, maddening, hopefully bipartisan fallibility.
posted by umberto at 8:22 AM on December 7, 2013

I wonder whether Steratore was pleased with his portrayal in that series. He came off as kind of whiny. This was the first section that caught my attention.

It’s notable that after 10 or 15 minutes in the house with the unmarked mailbox, obsessing over the two downgrades, Steratore begins thinking about his team. The crew had a season-high six downgrades in the Houston-Arizona game. He’ll have to tend to one bit of potential tension—Seeman and Paganelli seeing the the pass-interference call differently, and the grader agreeing with Paganelli, causing a downgrade. Steratore will hold a conference call with his six officials tonight at 9:45, and no one’s going to want to hear him whining over two downgrades that might cost him a chance at glory.

There also seemed to be some competition between him and Paganelli, the ref who had gone to the Superbowl last year. Maybe it was just me. It seemed like the author didn't like Steratore very much, or was trying to imply something about him.
posted by vincele at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2013

I wonder whether Steratore was pleased with his portrayal in that series. He came off as kind of whiny.

I didn't get that from it at all. To me, he came across as a professional who's trying not to get caught up in his own head even though he knows that not doing so just makes him spend more time in his own head, like a surgeon who nearly lost a patient and has to move on to the next but is trying not to make the same mistake.
posted by Etrigan at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2013

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