Scouting the Next NFL Officials

“Officiate every game and every play of every game as if it is an NFL interview because you never know who may be watching.”


Of the thousands of football officials nationwide, only 121 with the experience, technical skills, athleticism, and character to call the game at its highest level currently officiate in the National Football League. To ensure they always have the most qualified officials prepared to join the NFL, scouts across the country evaluate officials at all levels of football to identify potential NFL officials. The league then uses this prospect pool to develop and choose their next officials.

Scouting For Talent

As these candidates continue to officiate games, the scouts monitor their progress, act as mentors, and help the candidates advance through the officiating ranks.

The Officiating Department’s scouting team is essential to the League’s commitment to identifying and developing prospects who may one day become NFL officials.

Scouts look for officials with great potential by attending more than 500 games each season at various levels, though the primary focus is on college games. The NFL Officiating Department staff themselves attend about 50 games a season, including those that feature the league’s MDP prospects, including the post-season college all-star games.

With their extensive knowledge of football officiating and training from the NFL Officiating Department, scouts mainly use two methods to find the next generation of officials to add to the database: “bird-dogging” and word-of-mouth scouting.

A scout “bird-dogs” high school and college football games — meaning that, with no existing knowledge of the officials in that game, the scout shows up to evaluate the officials. Not every game features an official who catches a scout’s eye, but occasionally one stands out.

If an official makes a positive impression while working a game at which an NFL scout is present, the scout will notify the NFL Officiating Department to add that official to the officiating database.

Scouts and the NFL Officiating Department also rely on word-of-mouth, working closely with local, state, and college associations, as well as other officials to hear about standouts they should observe. Scouts tap their officiating networks to identify and follow prospects, but that doesn’t limit their focus to just that official. Occasionally, another crew member stands out and ends up on that scout’s radar.

During games, scouts comment on each game official’s performance, using a standardized form, for the benefit of NFL Officiating Department.

The current pool of officiating candidates is composed of high school and college officials, and includes NFL Legends and graduates of the NFL’s Football Officiating Academy, working to become officials. All of the officials have been evaluated to some extent and once in the database, continue to have their progress tracked by the NFL Officiating Department staff.

Spotting Necessary Traits

NFL officiating scouts are trained to recognize the distinct qualities that separate NFL-quality officials from the rest. Scouts look for officials who exhibit the following traits during every play of a game:

  • Accuracy in enforcing penalties, and the ability to make consistent calls from play-to-play and game-to-game;
  • Physical fitness and a professional appearance;
  • Field presence, which includes decisiveness, professionalism, communication and steady game oversight;
  • Understanding and correct application of the rules;
  • The knowledge and ability to execute correct mechanics and procedures with confidence and precision; and
  • Personal qualities demonstrated by striving for improvement, leading by example and maintaining integrity.