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League considering full-time referees, again

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 01: Head coach Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts reacts to an officials call during the first half of a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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The issue of full-time officials has percolated from time to time over the past five years. Indeed, the 2012 labor deal between the league and the NFL Referees Association gave the NFL the right to hire up to 17 full-time officials.

The NFL once again is considering whether to finally follow through on it, via Judy Battista of NFL Media.

So why hasn’t it happened yet? As PFT wrote in December 2016: “The fundamental problem, as it relates to making a part-time, seasonal employee a full-time, year-round employee, is providing the employee with enough compensation to entice the employee to ditch any other employment. Complicating matters is the fact that having other employment gives the official financial security in the event that the officiating assignment evaporates due to poor performance.”

According to the NFL Media report, “full-time referees would be gradually phased in, to give current referees the opportunity to either exit their current careers or to leave the officiating ranks.” Innocuous on the surface, that sentence carries a fairly ominous message: Referees eventually will be expected to pick one job or the other, and those who don’t want to give up more lucrative professions will have to at some point surrender their officiating careers.

The league previously has resisted forcing the best of the best officials to choose one job over the other, tolerating moonlighting because: (1) it’s cheaper to pay an employee on a part-time basis; and (2) having a really good official part of the time is better than having a so-so official all of the time. But the time apparently is coming for some officials to go all in or all out, with the NFL having complete access to them every month of the offseason -- and every day of the in-season.

It remains to be seen whether the plan will be finalized. When NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent said in November that the league will consider adding 17 full-time officials for 2017, the NFL Referees Association made it clear that the union will have a say regarding the issue.

The issue of full-time officials returned to the front burner several weeks earlier, when Saints coach Sean Payton said during a visit to PFT Live that having part-time officials is “madness.” In the aftermath of those remarks, NFL executive V.P. of football operations Dean Blandino acknowledged that the idea has merit.