Poor officiating was an inescapable topic during the early weeks of the NFL season and there is another ref controversy brewing ahead of Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
With experienced union officials locked out by the league during the first three weeks of the 2012 season, replacement refs did their best. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite good enough in a few high-profile instances. Although there is not a replacement ref among the seven-man officiating crew chosen for the Super Bowl, fears abound that this isn't the most talented group available. The doubts about the merits of this crew are focused on Jerome Boger, who will be refereeing the Super Bowl for the first time. He has been an on-field official for nine years and a referee since 2006.
“What’s happening right now is that the best officials are not working the best games,” former on-field NFL official and current NBC analyst Jim Daopoulos told The New York Times before the league named the crew but after Boger's appointment was rumored. "I’m looking at the seven guys who are working in the Super Bowl, and to be quite honest, several of them should not be on the field.”
According to NFL.com, referees are selected for the Super Bowl based on their performances ratings. The game officials to receive a spot in Super Bowl XLVII are Darrell Jenkins (umpire), Steve Stelljes (head linesman), Byron Boston (line judge), Craig Wrolstad (field judge), Joe Larrew (side judge) and Dino Paganelli (back judge).
"We congratulate Jerome and his entire crew on being assigned to work at Super Bowl XLVII," NFL Vice President of Officiating Carl Johnson said in a statement to NFL.com when the crew was announced on Wednesday. "Just like the two competing teams, every member of this officiating crew has had an outstanding season and earned this honor. We are confident that they will have a great game on Sunday."
The questions swirling around Boger involve the quality -- or possible lack thereof -- of his regular-season performance. Ben Austro of FootballZebras.com, a website focused on officiating in the NFL, spoke with two officials, who remain anonymous, who claimed that Boger received eight poor grades during the season only to have them reversed on appeal.
“Eight downgrades can eliminate you from being eligible to officiate the playoffs," one of the officials told Austro. "Other officials who received less downgrades than eight aren’t officiating in the playoffs."
Among the theories suggested by Daopoulos, Austro's sources and unnamed officials who spoke with Eric Aldeson of Yahoo! Sports is that Boger landed the coveted gig -- and perhaps even had his downgrades wiped away on appeal -- to punish officials who were outspoken during the lockout or to highlight the diversity of the referee ranks.
"Some people have thought that there might be a diversity element to it; he would only be the second African-American referee to head the Super Bowl," Austro told 11Alive in Atlanta.
Whether or not Boger was the preferred pick of the NFL or if he actually earned the Super Bowl gig on his own merit, officials seem to be in agreement that the NFL's system for evaluating officials and doling out postseason assignments is heavily flawed.
"It's disheartening," an unnamed official told Yahoo! Sports, "and you never think at this level that would happen. It's the individuals running the show that have created this mess. If you talk to 121 guys, there will be 100-plus who say the system is horrendous."
Will this "horrendous" system impact the outcome of the Super Bowl?
Count former NFL VP of Officiating and current FOX analyst Mike Pereria among those who think Boger will "rise above the fray." Pereira, who hired Boger, wrote on Wednesday that those criticizing Boger are really angry at the NFL.
"Some officials have chosen the honorable path of anonymously questioning Boger's selection by spreading myths and untruths to the media," wrote Pereria, defending Boger's performance and selection at FOXSports.com. "And, unfortunately, these officials have decided to throw one of their own under the bus, when it's apparent that the real target of their assault is the National Football League."
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In a season that began with criticism of replacement refs, the NFL found itself dealing with questions Wednesday about the qualifications of its lead official for the Super Bowl.
Jerome Boger, a member of NFL officiating crews for nine years, will be the referee Sunday in his first NFL title game amid accusations by a former official-turned-broadcaster that the league doctored his rating.
Boger has worked four divisional playoff games, including the San Francisco 49ers' victory over Green Bay this year. He entered the league as a line judge in 2004, and was promoted to referee in 2006. He is only the second black referee to work the title game, following Mike Carey five years ago.
His impending selection, which was formally announced Wednesday, was criticized earlier this week by Jim Daopoulos, who was quoted in The New York Times as saying the grading of some officials, including Boger, was altered.
Daopoulos worked 11 years as an on-field official and 12 years as a supervisor before joining NBC as an analyst.
"I'm looking at the seven guys who are working in the Super Bowl, and to be quite honest, several of them should not be on the field," Daopoulos told the Times.
Daopoulos told the paper he believed the league predetermined who would work the Super Bowl.
The league and the referees' union have denied such claims, citing the evaluation process. Ray Anderson, NFL executive vice president of football operations, called the allegations "patently false and insulting to Jerome Boger."
Attempts to reach Boger were unsuccessful. The NFL does not make officiating crews available before games.
Under the NFL officiating program's evaluation system, the highest-rated eligible officials at each position are chosen for the Super Bowl. The officials must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.
The other game officials announced Wednesday are Darrell Jenkins (umpire), Steve Stelljes (head linesman), Byron Boston (line judge), Craig Wrolstad (field judge), Joe Larrew (side judge) and Dino Paganelli (back judge).
Boger's selection was applauded by the NFL Referees Association and the Fritz Pollard Alliance, a group of minority coaches, front office, scouting and gameday NFL officials.
"This is a well-deserved honor for each member of the crew," said Tim Millis, NFLRA executive director. "The Super Bowl XLVII crew, led by referee and crew chief Jerome Boger, all had an excellent 2012 season."
John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, called the criticism "unfair, inaccurate and offensive."
He said the league has "an elaborate system of checks and balances, and changes to the grading only occur after careful review and agreement by nine supervisors."
"There is an appeal process," he said. "The final scoring is calculated by an outside vendor. Tampering with Boger's grades so that he would be the top referee did not happen and could not happen. After a 17-week season, Jerome came out No. 1 in the scoring system fair and square. He earned the right to be the Super Bowl referee."
Boger worked the next-to-last game of the season between the Raiders and Panthers in Carolina. During that Panthers victory, quarterback Cam Newton bumped Boger while disputing a call. Newton was penalized but not ejected because Boger said he didn't feel the bump was enough to warrant an ejection.
"It wasn't of a malicious nature," Boger said at the time.