The Old Ref Epidemic

Referees aren’t getting any younger.

An old man in stripes looks confused at what his eyes have mislead him to believe.

With Super Bowl LIII in the rear-view mirror, it is time to take a step back and look at any potential issues existing in the NFL. Before we dive into the epidemic, I’d like to formally state that I would never want to officiate a game. Never getting the praise deserved for making a right call and getting booed for the other calls is just not intriguing to me. So if you ever have the balls to make judgement calls in front of 70,000 fans you are a better man (or woman) than me.

If you watch the NFL, you’ve probably noticed that the officials are mostly old men. To reach the NFL as a referee is a great career achievement. It took many years of officiating from high school to college to finally the NFL. Congratulations. But is this what fans and coaches want? A person who is older than the dirt he is officiating on? By the time the referees get into the NFL, their cognitive abilities and eye site are well past their prime. The average age of an NFL official is 51 years old. Yes, they know the rules by heart and have a boatload of experience. But does that outweigh their deteriorated ability to process the fastest form of football on the planet?

I would personally like to see a younger generation of refs take over the NFL. I don’t mind guys being in their 40s or 50s, but it’s the refs in their 60s and 70s that I worry about. There are so many fast-moving objects during every play of a football game. Replay review helps officials get calls right, but too many booth reviews ruin the flow of the game. Not all calls can be reviewed anyway, like snap infractions or false starts. If these penalties that require eagle eyes are missed, play continues, and you must sweep it under the rug. I feel as if younger referees have an advantage over the old-timers on calls like that.

In all honesty, it would be tough to cap the age of an official. There are psychological tests and an eye test that an NFL ref must pass before each season. I’d like to know the extent of the eye test. Is it just checking their vision in each eye or are they checking their ability to identify quick moving objects? Either way it would be beneficial to the game to have the freshest eyes possible. It doesn’t take 20 years to learn the rules of football, but it may take me 20 years to get over a missed call. All I ask is for the NFL to put their micro noggins together and take a look at this crippling epidemic.

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