Saints’ Sean Payton recently opened up about the league’s reluctance to pay officials and referees full-time wages.
It came as a shock to many NFL fans, myself included: the NFL does not pay their referees like full-time employees. It is the only major American sports league in which officials have day jobs.
It’s comical. There’s simply no reason for it. This is a multi-billion dollar industry, and referees are a fundamental part of the product. Any sports fan knows what it’s like to see crucial moments in a game spoiled by a bad call. I’d expected that the NFL, as with all other major sports, would be doing everything they could to improve on that aspect of the experience.
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“There aren’t many Mondays that go by that there aren’t at least 28 to 30 head coaches that are ticked off about certain calls that were missed or weren’t made. You see it all the time,” Payton said on NBC Sports Radio’s Pro Football Talk Live, “And it’s the frustration that the system currently hasn’t improved. We say it has, but it hasn’t.
That’s not to say that the referees, even on their part-time pay, don’t do an incredible job. They do. Football is a fast-paced mess of bodies and infractions, and for the most part, the officials do an amazing job keeping the games clean and well-refed. But why not simply pay them for their work? It would make their performance that much better.
“We’re the only league that has officials that have primary other jobs, which is really madness,” Payton continued, “We can pay these guys. They should be full-time NFL officials, and they should be working throughout the week, communicating. And I know they get their hour in here, their hour in there, and maybe even more than that. But by and large, every other sports league employs full-time officials. And ours, these guys all have other significant jobs. And I just think it’s very difficult to do with the speed of the game.”
It’s not a knock on referees. Again, they do a great job with the time they have. It’s a knock on the NFL. In a time when ratings are down and fans are questioning the quality of their product, the league should take every step toward improving. That should include paying the officials full-time.