The NFL won't announce the names of the "all-star" crew set to officiate Super Bowl XLVII until the conference championship games have been decided, but reports from several sources indicate that Jerome Boger, a league referee since 2006, will get this year's assignment. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported this on Jan. 13, and FootballZebras.com, a respected site that covers pro-level officiating, had the report around the same time.
And according to FootballZebras.com, Boger's qualifications to call the biggest sporting event in America might be questionable at best. Or, if not Boger's qualifications, certainly the process by which referees are allowed to contend for the Super Bowl. Per the site, who talked with Michael Signora, the league’s vice president of football communications, “the criteria for referees to be eligible for the Super Bowl is three years experience as a referee [and five years total] and playoff experience as a referee. That criteria has not changed since at least 2007.”
In a follow-up e-mail to the site, Signora stated that “In order for an official at any position to be eligible for the Super Bowl, he must have at least five years of NFL experience and either a conference championship game assignment or a playoff assignment in the Wild Card or Divisional round in three of the past five years.”
Boger, however, had just two playoff games under his belt before the 2012 season, and FZ.com finally got to the bottom of the disparity when the league told the site that a referee specifically needs five years in the NFL as an official, three years as a referee, and just one playoff game. And according to the NFL, referees are the only officials held to that lower standard, in which only one playoff assignment is needed to qualify for the Super Bowl. Boger called the divisional game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers (which would be his third playoff game), but 2012 games aren't supposed to be part of that process, as it's common practice for the Super Bowl-assigned referee to call a divisional game.
Officials are graded through the season in order to determine playoff assignments, or at least, that's what the league tells us. But FootballZebras.com spoke with two officials -- one current and one former -- and each said independently that Boger had eight total downgrades on his 2012 evaluation. According to both men, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, eight downgrades in a season is enough to disqualify any official from postseason eligibility, never mind a Super Bowl assignment.
The league's evaluation process recently came into question when it was learned that Ed Hochuli, who the NFL likes to tout as perhaps its best official, would not work any postseason games at all -- he would work the Pro Bowl instead. We cannot confirm the alleged downgrades on Boger's evaluation, and we are not specifically casting aspersions on his ability or not to call a Super Bowl fairly and correctly. The process, however, has changed over the last few years, and this is where the NFL should provide clarification as quickly as possible.
For one, Boger resides in Conyers, Ga., and serves as an underwriter for Allstate Insurance in Atlanta in the offseason. The Atlanta Falcons are one win over the San Francisco 49ers away from playing in a Super Bowl in which the referee is a hometown guy. We are not for one minute suggesting that Boger would give the Falcons any kind of "home cooking," but with the NFL's supposed interest in avoiding the appearance of impropriety, it's a bit of a red flag. The NFL does have an alternate official for every Super Bowl -- in fact, Boger acted as that alternate in Super Bowl XLV two years ago for referee Walt Anderson -- and we'll see if the league has any public statement about that issue should it take place.
Second, why the lower qualification for the referee? The NFLRA had not responded to FootballZebras.com's inquiry for more information, and we'll be working to follow up on this process ourselves, but it certainly seems odd that the most visible member of the officiating crew in the league's most visible game would be held to a lower standard.
According to FZ.com, the process for grading officials changed when former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira announced his departure from that position in 2009. Current NFL Senior VP of Operations Ray Anderson, a hire of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, named Carl Johnson as Pereira's replacement, and then went about altering and taking control of the standard. We won't go so far as to say that Anderson cherry-picked Boger for this game for any reason, but the two officials who spoke to FZ.com did.
“Ray Anderson had his hands in running, controlling, and dictating to the officiating department,” said "Charles," the former official. Anderson was also one of the lead negotiators in the recent CBA talks with the actual referees, which led to a lockout, and the debacle caused by replacement officials through the first three weeks of the 2012 regular season.
Now, with Johnson returning to the field as an official, and Anderson perhaps joining the Oakland Raiders in a front-office position, the NFL may be looking to once again alter its process. If anything looks weird from a penalty perspective in this upcoming Super Bowl, the league will have a lot of explaining to do -- and an imperative to shore up its own evaluation standards.
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