When it was announced that the NFL would be hiring on some officials full time, you knew it was only a matter of time before someone said the CFL should do the same.
And that time came about 10 seconds after the NFL announcement when former TSN personality Gary Lawless tweeted the following:
— gary lawless (@garylawless) August 9, 2017
The idea behind full-time refs is a solid one, but no matter how much money a league sinks into officiating, it is not going to fix the biggest issue with referees: they are human.
For the most part, and I am probably in the minority here, I think CFL officiating is pretty good. Mistakes happen, but they happen in all sports (ask Nashville Predators fans how they feel about the state of NHL officiating) and until our robot overlords overtake us and replace human refs with mechanical ones, human error is going to exist. No amount of time and money is going to be able to make a referee see a play better. Things happen fast and they use their judgment. Sometimes they are wrong, but the vast majority of the time they are correct.
There is also the issue of compensation. It is a great abstract idea to say the CFL should hire their referees on full time, but where is that money coming from? The CFL is not the NFL, with billions of dollars at their disposal, so if the league were to hire some refs on full-time, then they would either have to find new money or allocate current funds to this.
There is also the issue of what is fair compensation. How much should full-time referees get? The player minimum is currently $53,000, so is that a fair wage to start refs at or should they get more? Or less? I don’t think you can have refs making equal to or more than players, so now we are talking somewhere in the $35-40,000 range. That is below the average Canadian income, so is that fair compensation? Will that allow refs to be able to train more and get better? There is no easy answer here, but these are the types of discussions that will have to take place before the CFL can do what the NFL is about to.
Speaking of what the NFL is going to do, lost in the headlines of “NFL to hire refs full-time” is the fact that not all officials will become full-time, just a small number, and it will be phased in over time. The goal for the NFL is to have between 21-24 over the next few years. The NFL currently employees 124 officials, so that is between 17-19 per cent of their work force will be full-time. The CFL currently employs 38 officials, so if a similar percentage were to be granted full-time status, that number would be about seven officials. That is fewer than the number of head referees the league currently employs (which is eight), so at best you could say that the league could make all its head officials full-time. But the NFL isn’t just making head refs full-time, they are spreading out over the seven officiating positions they have. So while the idea of hiring refs on full-time is a good one, the devils, as always, is in the details.
The perception is that the CFL has an officiating problem, and while perception can become reality, in this case it does not. There are problems with officiating in the CFL — though most of them revolve around the command centre, which is a whole different kettle of fish — but I fail to see how hiring on refs full time will fix those problems. Human error will always exist in sports, be it the CFL or the NFL or the NHL. And I will leave it to the great Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe to summarize my thoughts (just replace NFL with CFL).
It’s not about prep. It’s about instant judgment. Can’t you football zealots understand that? These refs are who they are. Nothing changes.
— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) August 10, 2017