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How do they choose the officials for the NFL playoffs?

by mickey on January 11, 2009

Note: The following is a guest post from Football-Refs reader Barry

———-

I have followed the assignment of referees to the playoffs since 1985 and all officials since 2002.  While I don’t have all the answers and have never verified this with anyone in authority, here is my version of how it is done.  It is based upon my complete records since 2002 and comments by Mike Pereira to the NFL Network on the December 30 “Official Review.”  If you have other information, please let me know.

Up to and including the 2002 season, all officials were assigned as individuals to all-star crews for all of the playoff games.  Presumably, the highest-rated official at each position worked the Super Bowl.  Each one also worked one playoff game.

For the 2003 and 2004 seasons, officials were basically assigned by regular season crews, with substitutions for rookie officials and (perhaps) low-rated ones.  Eight such crews were assigned to the wild card and divisional playoff games.  Then two of these crews, with some substitutions from the other six playoff crews, also worked the conference championships.  Every official in the conference championships also worked in the wild card or divisional playoffs.  As before, the best official at each position worked the Super Bowl.  Every one had worked at least one playoff game, and in a couple of instances (if they were on the right crew) they had worked two.

This is the fourth year of the present system, and I think it works like this:

  • The eight highest-rated crews are assigned to the wild card and divisional playoffs, but substitutions are made in three instances: 1) rookie officials; 2) officials who are rated third- or second-best at their position; 3) poorly-rated officials.  They are replaced by officials with good ratings from the other nine crews that are not assigned to these rounds.
  • The two crews for the conference championships are all-star crews and consist of the third- and second-rated officials at each position.  None of these officials have worked in the previous two rounds.
  • The Super Bowl officials, as always, are the highest-rated officials at each position for the year.  Some have worked in the wild card or divisional playoffs, but not all of them.
  • I don’t know how the Pro Bowl officials are selected, but none of them have worked any other postseason games.

We welcome your comments below.

{ 18 comments }

KMG 365 January 12, 2009 at 12:38 am

Peter King had an article a couple of weeks ago on how the officials are picked to work the postseason. Slight differences to what Barry said but pretty much the same.

Ed Hochuli’s officiating crew was the highest-rated crew in the league this year, according to Phil Simms of CBS Sports.

Nearly fell off my chair Sunday in the first quarter of Baltimore-Miami when I heard Simms say Hochuli, who had the biggest gaffe of the year in the Denver-San Diego game in Week 2, and his crew earned the highest grade among the 17 officiating teams in 2008. I asked the league for confirmation, but a spokesman said there would be no discussion of specific grades of officials. But I’m sure Simms is right.

I looked Sunday into how the postseason officiating assignments are made. But first a word about the grading of officials. Each official works 15 games during the season, covering approximately 2,250 plays per zebra. They’re graded on accuracy of calls made, graded down on calls missed, judged as crews on the flow and pace of a game, and graded on proper positioning and general professionalism. At the end of the season, every official gets an individual grade. The crews are ranked collectively by aggregate grades, while the individual officials — 17 per position — are ranked 1 through 17.

Re the postseason assignments: The league separates the first two weekends of the playoffs and the last two weekends. On the first two weekends, the wild-card and divisional rounds, the league takes the eight highest-rated crews among the 17 crews overall and has each one do one game. (Four wild-card games, four divisional games.) After the divisional games next weekend, no regular-season crews do games as a group the rest of the year.

For the last three games — the AFC and NFC Championship and the Super Bowl — all-star crews take over. Each year, the league ranks every official by position (referee, head linesman, back judge, etc.). The three top-rated officials at each position will get one of the final three games. No official will do more than two postseason games, and no official will do more than one game from among the conference championships and Super Bowl.

There are a couple of exceptions. No rookie official, for example, is eligible to work the championship games or Super Bowl. No official can work the Super Bowl two years in a row.

If you see Hochuli in any of the last three games of the year, you’ll know he was one of the three highest-rated referees of the 2008 season. Hard for me to believe he could be, based on the enormity of the mistake in Week 2, but we’ll know later this month.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/peter_king/01/04/wildcards/3.html

brian burnham January 12, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thanks for the info. How do we keep refs like Ron Winter out of playoff games. I think if a player farted he would throw the flag.

thanks again
BCB
Saint Augustine, Florida

Barry January 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

My records show that Ron Winter has been a referee since at least 1998 but has only been assigned to three playoff games, including the one this year. Maybe that tells us somehting.

Barry January 12, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for sharing Peter King’s article, KMG 365. I’m glad that a real journalist basically verified my amateur speculations.

Two minor points about what King said:

First, according to my records and Mike Pereira’s interview, rookie officials do not work ANY of the rounds of the playoffs.

Second, for the past three years since the current selection system has been in effect, none of the officials who worked the conference championships had worked in a previous round. Even if their regular season crew worked in the first two rounds of the playoffs, they did not. The only officials who worked two games were some of the Super Bowl officials. We’ll see if that holds this year.

jamdawg January 13, 2009 at 12:24 am

I was watching the Titans-Ravens Game and saw that Terry McAuley was the official. McAuley was the idiot who violated the rule about when you can and can’t review a play in a 2001 Browns-Jags Game in Cleveland that inspired The Bottles flying out of the stands. So I wasn’t surprised that his crew totally missed the play clock go to zero and the Ravens snapped the ball almost 1.5 seconds later.

Then Bill Leavy officiates the Steelers-Chargers Game. Leavy was the Referee at Super Bowl XL where the officiating practically handed the game to Pittsburgh on a Silver Platter.

Just sayin’…

Tex January 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

By the way,,,, Ed Hochuli has been a Great Referee for many years & for others who think he is not deserving. Please think!

Look back this year,,, so many officials made mistakes not just Mr. Ed Hochuli.

Tex

Scotty January 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Well said Tex. Every official makes mistakes, its part of life in the NFL. And honestly was it his fault the Chargers didn’t stop the Broncos 2-point try in that game? He is a great official and I think the media and he Chargers helped make the call seem a whole lot worse than it was. So I hope that if Phil Simms is correct in the fact that Hochuli was the top rated official during the year we will see him in Tampa doing the Super Bowl.

Zach January 13, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I think the NFL plays favorites with their officials way to much. For example, John Parry has been a referee for 2 seasons and he has easily worked more nationally-televised games than any other referee. He was an alternate for the Giants-Bucs wild card game last year and worked the Arizona-Atlanta wild card game this year.
My point is, the NFL needs to do more to spread the wealth among the referees, not just giving big games to Hochuli, McAulay, and Parry.

Jan January 13, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Tex I agree ed has been a great Referee for a long time. I for one ope he is inthe Superbowl.
Jan

Tex January 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Yes Jan,,,, but saving Ed Hochuli for Super Bowl XLV in Texas!!!

As for Hochuli he did not have a playoff game in 2006. So I see them not playing favorites.

Tex

Jan January 14, 2009 at 11:58 am

Tex I remember Ed not officaiting the play off Games in 2006. Ed has orfficiated two Superbowls XXXII 32 and XXXVIII 38.

Barry January 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Hochuli officiated his first playoff gamme in 1993, and 2006 was the only year since that he was not assigned a playoff game. In addition to the Super Bowls in 1997 and 2003, he officiated five conference championships (1995, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2005), which means that he was one of the three highest-rated referees in seven different years.

One point of clarification: Phil Simms said that Hochuli’s CREW was the highest rated this year, not that Ed himself was the highest-rated referee. We shall see with the Super Bowl assignment.

Barry January 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm

One other little tidbit I picked up from watching Mike Pereira on “Official Review” on the NFL Network tonight. He confirmed that the Super Bowl officials are normally the top-rated persons for the season at each position and that each of them has previously worked in the wild card or divisional rounds of the playoffs. However, if one of them does not perform well during his playoff assignment, he could be replaced for the Super Bowl. He did not indicate whether this has ever happened.

Barry January 15, 2009 at 11:34 am

Oops. I didn’t state that correctly. I should have said that IF a Super Bowl official worked during the playoffs (wild card or divisional playoffs), his performance would be reviewed. As I said previously, a Super Bowl official does not necessarily work a previous round if his crew is not one of the eight highest-rated for the regular season. Last year, for example, four of the seven Super Bowl officials worked in the earlier rounds and three did not. In 2006, five of the seven worked earlier. And in 2005, four worked earlier. None of them worked in the conference championships, and Pereira said that this would be the case this year as well.

Jan January 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Wh will be the officials @ Super Bowl 43?
Who will bethe alterate Referee?
Jan

Tex January 19, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Jann,

See under Officials Game Assignements. They were posted about 4 or 5 days ago.

Terry McAulay is the Ref.

Tex

Pooch January 20, 2009 at 12:05 am

Jann,
What site? The Officials who are doing the game know who they are, but the results have not been published.

Jan January 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Pooch thre are two sitesthat I canthink of One is behind the strips and the other is NFL85.com. You need to register @ either of the sites which will let you post.
jan

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