The Path to Becoming an NFL Official

Tight-end Joel Dreessen #85 of the Houston Texans pleads with line judge John Hussey.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Want to be an NFL referee, umpire or head linesman? The road is often long and requires extensive training, experience, and dedication. With players, coaches and spectators hanging on every call by football officials, it is understandable why football officials need to be on the top of their game at all times.

The NFL Officiating Department is responsible for making the selection of NFL officials. In professional American football, there are just over 100 people who the NFL deems worthy to officiate the games played by 32 NFL teams each season. 

The NFL has developed a regional network of more than 65 officiating scouts to canvass the country in search of officials with the potential to advance to higher levels of football. The efforts of the scouts and NFL Officiating Department have led to a pool of about 4,000 officials at all levels that have been observed and evaluated. Once in the officiating database, scouts track their progress, and those who stand out can earn opportunities to move up to officiate in higher levels of football.

Minimum Necessary Requirements

To be considered for a position as an official by the NFL, the candidate must have a minimum of 10 years experience officiating football, at least five of which must have been at a varsity collegiate or another professional level. 

It is required that the candidate must belong to an accredited football officials association or have experience in football, such as a player or coach, and must be up on all of the rules of professional football, which can change from year to year.

Candidates must be up to the task of running up and down the field. Since the job is physically demanding, the candidate must in excellent physical condition.

Another consideration by the NFL includes the type of work and frequency of the candidate's officiating schedule for the past three seasons. This includes furnishing a detailed list of dates, schools, locations of games and positions worked.

The NFL Officiating Department

The Officiating Department works closely with local, state and collegiate officiating associations to develop a pipeline of high school and college football officials across the country.

Also, the NFL hosts grass-roots clinics and programs designed to introduce young men and women to football officiating. The Football Officiating Academy broadens the talent pool by introducing officiating to people across the country. The academy teaches officiating mechanics and football fundamentals, along with professional and personal skills. Women Officiating Now is another grassroots initiative developed by the NFL that introduces women to the possibility of officiating football and helps them get involved in football at all levels.

The NFL has a development program used to evaluate and mentor select college officials who have shown the potential to officiate at the professional level. Former professional players can get a chance to use their unique knowledge of football through the NFL's Legends Officiating Development Program.

Prospective candidates who feel they meet the NFL's necessary requirements for becoming an official can submit their information to the NFL Officiating Department, 280 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

More About Football Officials

In professional and college football games, there are seven people officiated each game: a referee, umpire, head linesman, line judge, back judge, field judge and side judge.  

Officials keep the game rolling along by monitoring the game clock and play clock. They also call a penalty when a rule is broken, record all rule infractions and make sure the athletes do not unnecessarily hurt each other.