Officiating Development

Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience. 

Every NFL game has a third team on the field: the officiating crew. For every snap, this on-field unit makes calls with precision and split-second decisions without hesitation.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Without the benefit of multiple camera angles on high-definition TV, the crew rules on about 153 plays each and every game. Correctly officiating an NFL game takes years of experience, training and development. 

NFL officials are the best of the best — only 121 officials currently have the privilege of calling football games at the highest level. No one officiates forever, so the NFL’s Officiating Development Program continuously strives to develop a robust talent pool to ensure that the next generation of officials is ready to step up when needed.

“If you were going to write a 10-chapter book about what it’s like to be an official in the NFL, the first nine chapters would deal with preparation. The last chapter would deal with the game.”

The Officiating Department works closely with local, state and collegiate officiating associations to develop this pipeline of high school and college football officials across the country. The league also hosts grass-roots clinics and programs designed to introduce young men and women to football officiating.


The NFL has developed a regional network of officiating scouts to canvass the country in search of officials with the potential to advance to higher levels of football.

All of these candidates will learn important personal and professional skills that will help them on and off the field. A select few will demonstrate the skills, athleticism and strength of character necessary to officiate in the NFL. 

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.

Officiating Development Programs

Programs for Advanced Officials

High-performing prospects may earn their way into one of these programs, which develop officiating talent to work at the highest levels:

  • NFL Mackie Development Program (MDP): Select college officials that have shown the potential ability to officiate at the highest level — typically officials in major college conferences — get a chance to be evaluated and mentored by the NFL’s Officiating Department to help prepare them for possibly making the jump to the NFL.
  • Legends Officiating Development Program (LODP): Former players get the opportunity to use their unique knowledge of football and world-class athleticism to stay involved in the game they love.