Art McNally has spent numerous years in the NFL, first as a game official and then as director of officiating. For his service, the 87-year-old has now received the ultimate honor – the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Daniel F. Reeves Pioneer Award.
This marks McNally’s 53rd year of employment in the league. The Pioneer Award was named after the late Hall of Famer and recognizes those who have contributed innovations to professional football. McNally is the eighth person to receive this prestigious award and will be honored during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3, at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner.
After nine years as a game official (field judge in 1959 and referee from 1960-67), McNally was hired by the NFL in 1968 to fill the role of supervisor of officials. His outside-the-box manner of thinking and foresight paved the way for the NFL’s official film study program, consisting of training and evaluation of football officials in game situations.
Among his many responsibilities, McNally oversaw the scouting, screening, hiring and grading of the officiating crews that work each and every NFL game on the video side. It is said that McNally also had a heavy hand in steering the NFL in the right direction in terms of implementing “instant replay.” The other professional sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL) have proceeded to explore, accept and implement some form of instant replay into their game – following the footsteps of McNally. He presently works with the NFL Game Officials on a weekly basis in the capacity of a League Observer.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame public relations department, McNally was a teacher and coach in the Philadelphia school district for 18 years before joining the league office in 1968. Up until that point, he had officiated more than 3,000 football, baseball and basketball games over a 22-year period. He presently works with NFL game officially on a weekly basis in the capacity of a league observer.
As one is being ushered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though, 120-plus current officials are being locked out by NFL owners. While mediation didn’t work (to few individuals’ surprise), the NFL is currently training replacement officials from major college football conferences like the Big 12, Pac-12, and Big Ten.
The real question: Will the top NCAA officials leave their spots, especially those with high seniority, to cross the line of their NFL brethren for a game check or two? The NFL will be focusing on hiring bottom-feeders or green officials with very little experience in the big leagues of college football, as well as D-II, D-III and possibly NAIA officials, who will seize any moment of opportunity – fleeting or not – to become a referee in the professional ranks.
These replacement officials are undergoing very rigorous training sessions, ranging from on-field alignment and written class room assignments to on-field training. Their first experience of wearing the NFL stripes will arrive when training camp opens in a few weeks.
Frankly, it’s somewhat unrealistic to expect many of these officials to be able to digest all of the different rules during an incredibly short window; years of experience simply cannot be replaced. Once the lockout is lifted, NFL referees will be welcomed back – but with open arms? That is yet to be seen.
The NFL officials have met with a court-assigned mediator for several hours. The former group is a very proud fraternity, but it must understand it neither controls the game nor is bigger than the action on the gridiron. How much leverage do they actually possess? Probably not much.
The 2011 NFL vs. NFLPA standoff was profoundly different. The players are the product. Without the product, there is no game. Even if you bring in subpar talent, it just doesn’t work. The NFL owners understood that and found a happy medium in order to divide $9 billion dollars of revenue.
My take: The league negotiated a new CBA with the players in 2011 after locking them out for several months. The men who understand and uphold the philosophy of the game’s rules each and every Sunday, who help enforce the on-field integrity of the game and protect the players, find themselves in a similar fight with owners. They, too, deserve to be taken care of.
This most likely won’t be settled until the preseason starts. Much depends on if the officials get some support from the NFLPA, which is highly unlikely since the players will stand strong with the officials and respect their position. This could get ugly, involve the crossing of picket lines and forfeiture of several checks, and might leak into the 2012 season before both sides come to a settlement.
“The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFL’s decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season,” the NFLPA expressed in a statement released Monday. “In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function. Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association’s trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the league’s actions in this situation.”
With just a few weeks to go until NFL players report to training camp, these negotiations are in the fourth quarter. Wait a minute – they’re not even negotiating yet! But we do know one thing: There will be no delay of game.