Al Riveron was the favorite to be the NFL’s new senior vice president of officiating from the moment Dean Blandino announced his pending departure.
So the most noteworthy aspect of Wednesday’s announcement was that the league has created two new executive-level positions to assist Riveron in what had become a monster job within the league office. I don’t expect any fundamental changes with the way the department operates, but it’s worth taking a closer look.
First off, why was Riveron the favorite?
He had all the obvious qualifications and there was no indication the league wanted to reverse or change the course Blandino had set. Riveron is a former on-field official, including four years as a referee, and spent the past five years as the department’s deputy. His experience on the field, and the personal relationships he formed, had most current officials rooting for his appointment.
Does he have the same authority Blandino had?
Ultimately, yes. The NFL hired Russell Yurk as its vice president of replay administration and Wayne Mackie as its vice president of officiating evaluation and development, but both will report to Riveron. Everyone who works in the officiating department, and everything that the officiating department does, will fall under Riveron’s leadership.
Then why create these new roles?
Quite simply, the job got too big for one person to execute on a granular level. That was clear in March, when owners approved the shift of replay decisions from the referee to the officiating department’s New York command center. As I noted when Blandino’s departure was first announced, the job would require huge responsibilities around a variety of platforms, from replay engagement for all 256 games of the season to weekly communication with coaches to supervising and evaluating 122 officials to advancing a plan to hire full-time referees. That’s difficult from a time perspective, but more importantly as it relates to expertise.
I don’t care about internal responsibilities. All I want to know about is replay. How will that work?
I understand. According to the NFL, Yurk will direct the replay operation, employing his seven years of experience as a game-day replay official. He’ll be in the command center for every game, as will Riveron and Yurk. While Riveron technically will have final say, it’s reasonable to assume that Yurk will have a primary role on a play-by-play basis.
Is that a good idea?
I think so. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a single candidate with expertise in all the areas the officiating department has expanded to. Blandino, for example, rose to the top job after working exclusively in the replay department. He was never an on-field official, a fact that created issues among some in the rank-and-file.
Then why add a second executive for evaluation and development?
Among other reasons, the NFL’s decision to start offering full-time positions to referees means it should prepare for at least some turnover over the next few years. Some referees will accept the new terms. Others could decline and either accept demotions or leave their jobs. Independently, some referees could opt soon for retirement. Regardless, there has never been a more crucial time for the NFL to identify and develop new referee candidates.
Wednesday’s announcement was largely expected and will be welcomed in the officiating community. Fans shouldn’t expect or notice significant changes in the way NFL games are officiated as a result.