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Was an Unqualified Ref Picked To Officiate the Super Bowl in the Name of 'Diversity'?


"[T]he league wants diversity on its biggest stage."

Jerome Boger. (AP).

When it was announced in December that Jerome Boger would officiate Super Bowl XLVII, a few us were left scratching our heads. You see, the National Football League has strict guidelines on qualifying for football’s biggest game and Boger falls short in almost every category.

The sports news site Deadspin (the same people who broke that bizarre Manti Te’o/fake girlfriend story) offers more details on Borger's qualifications (or lack thereof):

Football Zebras, a site devoted solely to NFL officiating, reported on Jan. 20 that Boger's unspectacular in-season grades for his refereeing had been mysteriously changed after the fact to make him more qualified, and that he didn't have enough playoff experience under the league's own nebulous guidelines—guidelines that were apparently changed to make him eligible


After each game, officiating supervisors review the video and assign "downgrades" for blown calls or blatantly missed calls. Boger received eight downgrades over the season, not an unusually high number, but more than enough to disqualify an official from working the playoffs. But refs are allowed to appeal their grades, and Boger appealed all of his—Football Zebras, citing one current and one former official, reports that all eight were overturned and stricken from Boger's record. Yahoo's sources confirm.

Former referee Gerry Austin says going eight-for-eight is unheard of. "If you could get two downgrades changed in the course of the year, you've done real well," he told the [New York Times].

The league doesn't publicize its experience requirements for Super Bowls, but they're pretty well-known: a candidate must have officiated a conference championship game at some point in the past. Boger never worked a conference championship—he has refereed three playoff games, all in the divisional round. But when Football Zebras ... contacted the league to point out his ineligibility, they were told that the rule didn't apply.

Yes, Football Zebras was told that the rule simply didn't apply in Borger's situation.

"The criteria for referees to be eligible for the Super Bowl is three years experience as a referee (and five years total) and playoff experience as a referee. That criteria has not changed since at least 2007," writes Michael Signora, vice president of football communications, contradicting FZ's claim.

Citing a former official, FZ reports that this simply has not been the case in the past.

But wait! There’s more [from Deadspin]:

Last week the NFL released its officiating requirements for the first time ever, and there was a clause no one had ever seen. Instead of the system everyone thought was in place, where the highest-graded official at each position received the Super Bowl assignment, now a candidate only had to place in the Top Five at his position, a long as the people ahead of him had already worked Super Bowls.

So what’s the deal? How did Boger land the gig? Deadspin offers two theories:

  • 1) NFL officials picked Boger as a way of getting back at the more qualified candidates for their behavior following the ref lockout.
  • 2) NFL officials picked Borger to make the game appear more “diverse.”

Let’s look at the first theory:

… the NFL was not happy with some of its most respected officials taking public victory laps after the end of the referee lockout. Gene Steratore tipped his cap to the crowd and soaked in the cheers upon his return, while Ed Hochuli appeared on the cover of [Sports Illustrated].

"I don't think the league was happy with those things," NBC analyst and former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos told the New York Times. "I told Ed as soon as I saw the Sports Illustrated thing, ‘Well, you're not going to be working the Super Bowl this year.' And you know what? Neither Hochuli or Steratore worked a game in the playoffs."

And here’s the second theory:

Boger ... was hired by the NFL under a recruiting program specifically designed to find minority candidates, and will be just the second African-American referee to work a Super Bowl, after Mike Carey in 2008.

"To be honest, this has happened before," said Daopoulos. "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."

Yahoo was told the same thing by an unnamed official who said that “the league wants diversity on its biggest stage” and that tweaking Boger's grades "is a way to take care of that."

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 23: Referee Jerome Boger #23 looks on during a game between the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Redskins at the Bank of America Stadium on October 23, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Final Though (via Deadspin):

Boger, by all accounts, is far from the worst referee in the NFL. But he's equally as far from being the best. The postseason, and especially the Super Bowl, is supposed to be a reward for the league's top officials, selected through totally impartial evaluation. Instead, an NFL season that began with inferior officiating is going to end the same way.

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

Featured image courtesy Getty Images

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