Super Bowl 2013: NFL's officiating system draws criticism

USA TODAY Sports

Referee Jerome Boger is expected to be announced as the Super Bowl referee this week, but his appointment doesn't come without controversy, including claims that the NFL may have manipulated the system in Boger's favor.

The 2012 NFL season began with officiating controversy and will now end in similar fashion as there has been a lot of criticism and questions surrounding the NFL's selection of Jerome Boger as the Super Bowl referee.

For more Super Bowl coverage, check out Niners Nation and Baltimore Beatdown

Boger, who has been the rumored selection for weeks, is expected to be officially appointed as the referee for Super Bowl XLVII this week. His selection, however, drew the ire of current and former officials with some claiming the NFL manipulated the selection system in Boger's favor.

Following games, each official has their performance graded by league observers. According to a report from The New York Times, Boger received eight markdowns for incorrect calls during this season. All eight markdowns, however, were eventually overturned, a fact former NFL official Gerry Austin said was odd. Austin said if an official had two markdowns overturned in one season, they were doing very well.

There are also questions about the process that led to Boger's eight markdowns being overturned. Following an initial review, all official supervisors review the downgrades as a group with the a majority vote deciding whether or not the markdown will be overturned. According to The New York Times' report, several sources said Carl Johnson, the NFL's vice president for officiating, unilaterally overturned Boger's markdowns. Michael Signora, an NFL spokesman, disputed that claim.

"There is no merit to the suggestion that Jerome Boger's grades were treated differently from those of any other official," Signora said. "No downgrade is removed unless there is a consensus among the supervisors and the head of the department."

Not everyone, including other NFL officials believe that to be entirely true. While officials said Boger isn't necessarily a bad official, one said he should not have gotten the Super Bowl assignment.

"[Boger] shouldn't even be eligible for the game," one unnamed official said, according to Yahoo! Sports. "Everybody basically knows what's happening. You see when grades appear, and when grades mysteriously disappear. Any incorrect call or missed call will disappear for no reason at all."

Many officials say the current system to grade officials is flawed. The fact that markdowns can be overturned without explanation by the NFL led one current official to say the current selection process lacks integrity. Current Fox Sports analyst and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira was at the helm when the current selection process was implemented. He said the system had adequate transparency, feedback and fairness while he was working for the NFL, but said the current system does have issues.

"Is the system perfect? No," Pereira said. "I don't think the system is perfect. I think the whole thing, they need to take a look at the whole evaluation system."

As for why the NFL would tweak the system in Boger's favor, current NBC officiating analyst and former NFL official Jim Daopoulos said there could be multiple reasons, including the fact Boger would be just the second black referee to work a Super Bowl.

"To be honest, this has happened before," Daopoulos said. "Grades were adjusted. I know the league is very interested in having diversity in the rank and file, and they've done a great job of doing that. And for that reason, they've tried to work this thing out so that Jerome could have the Super Bowl."

Race may not be the only issue, however, as the officials' labor dispute from early in the season may have also had an effect. Some highly-respected referees, including Ed Hochuli and Gene Steratore, either spoke in the press about the labor dispute or referenced it in some way. Daopoulos said he didn't think the NFL was happy with those actions. Neither Hochuli or Steratore worked a playoff game this season.

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