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How to Become an NFL Referee in 6 Simple Steps

Looking for an official authority position in the National Football League?

Being an NFL official can be rewarding and offers a great opportunity to be involved in the game at the highest level.

It gives immense pleasure and excitement to be on the field with some of the top athletes and make critical decisions that impact the game.

The job provides a sense of accomplishment, but the path to becoming an NFL referee is long and arduous.

Read on to learn everything about how to become an NFL referee, how much NFL referees earn, and everything in between.

An Overview of an NFL Referee: A Primer

The NFL calls its referees “officials.” They play critical roles in making a football game possible.

Each NFL game is officiated by a seven-person crew that oversees important aspects of the game, with one referee who’s the lead member of the crew and wears the white cap.

With theirhustling skills, the referee is responsible for enforcing the rules, maintaining the game’s order, and making the final call on the game’s official score.

They usually stand behind the offensive team, to the quarterback’s throwing side.

The common duties of an NFL referee include but aren’t limited to:

  • Inspecting the pitch before a game
  • Determining if the weather conditions are suitable for the game
  • Ensuring the safety of players, fans, and team officials
  • Coordinating with officials on the field and assigning them duties
  • Watching the quarterback on passing plays
  • Watching the running back during run plays
  • Removing players for misconduct by sanctioning yellow or red cards
  • Giving out warnings and penalties during the game

How Much Do NFL Referees Make?

The NFL doesn’t disclose the official figures for how much their referees make.

But according to Sporting News 2019’s data, the average NFL referee earns about $205,000 a year, with the highest-paid NFL referees making about $250,000 per year.

The referees aren’t paid based on the number of games officiated. Instead, they get paid a fixed salary each season.

If they’re chosen for the playoffs, they get a bonus ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.

What You’ll Need to Become an NFL Referee [& Associated Costs]

The referee’s role is crucial in making an NFL game possible. Here are some essential requirements to become an NFL referee:

  • Physical Fitness: The game’s fast-paced nature requires referees to be on their feet for longer periods, often making runs. That’s why physical fitness is necessary to keep up with the growing physical demands of the game.
  • Education: Many NFL officials are high school graduates who are at least 18 years old. However, while no formal education is required, a bachelor’s degree in any major will help you prepare for the role and understand the game’s mechanics.
  • Officiating Experience: You must have prior officiating experience at high school or college football games to be considered for this position. Officiating college games is important since college serves as a minor league training ground for potential referees.
  • Knowledge of the NFL Rulebook: Understanding the rules is just as important as good officiating. Learning them ensures you can effectively make split-second decisions during a high-intensity game.

How Much Does It Cost to Become an NFL Referee?

You need a combination of education, training, and lots of field experience to become a successful NFL referee. Education isn’t required, but it gives you a competitive advantage over others.

The typical tuition cost for a sports management degree in the US is around $9,823 (in-state) per year on average or $23,591 (out-of-state) per year, according to CareerExplorer.

The NFL provides officiating training programs through the Football Officiating Academy (FOA) at no cost to participants.

Is It Hard to Become an NFL Referee?

The selection process for NFL referees is highly competitive, and the candidates are required to have extensive experience in the field.

Each NFL game averages about 153 playoffs, and an official is assessed on nearly 2,200 plays per season.

From this alone, you can picture how difficult it is to be an NFL official.

Overall, it’s tough competition and challenging, but it’s not impossible to get into.

If you follow the simple NFL-issued steps to be considered for this position, as well as have the commitment, dedication, and accumulated practical experience, it won’t be long before you become an NFL referee.

How Long Does It Take to Become an NFL Referee?

Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience.

The NFL requires at least 10 years of officiating in high school games and five years in college varsity games to be considered for its roster of officials.

It’s a long shot, and the odds of making it to the top are slim, but it might just work if you can handle the challenges and years of training and development.

How to Become an NFL Referee in 6 Simple Steps

The job prospects for NFL referees are quite good, and the growing demand creates more opportunities. Follow our step-by-step guide to win a referee slot for the NFL.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Although a degree isn’t a requirement, candidates with a bachelor’s degree in any major have better chances of landing the NFL referee position.

Having a degree in physical education, sports management, or a related field is considered a big advantage in hiring.

Step 2: Go Through the Training Process

NFL officials are custodians of the sport and are trained to work in a high-pressure environment and make decisions within seconds. They have the privilege of officiating games at the highest level.

The road to officiating requires extensive training; it takes years of practice to learn how to judge a football game properly.

The Football Officiating Academy (FOA) trains aspiring NFL officials to put them on the path to officiating.

Step 3: Register With the State

The NFL set its criteria and guidelines for evaluating and selecting the most competent referees. They have a network of scouts who canvass the country looking for future NFL officials.

However, if you’re just starting your career officiating at high school games or colleges, you may need to register with the state or regional officiating association where you’re practicing.

Step 4: Gain Officiating Experience

Learning the ins and outs of the game requires practice, lots of it. After you’ve completed the training and education, it’s time to get on the field.

As you gain experience, you can work in more advanced games, reaching high school and then moving on to major college games or leagues.

Aspiring referees can learn a great deal about the game on the college circuit.

Step 5: Get Certified

While certification isn’t a requirement for the NFL, earning some extra credentials would help you advance in your career.

You can take special training courses or enroll in NFL-sponsored programs to earn some certifications.

The NFL provides officiating programs for aspiring referees to gain exposure. One such useful program is their Mackie Development Program (MDP).

Step 6: Get Involved in the Game to Thrive

The NFL hires scouts to look out for potential referees at college games who have the potential to work at the highest level.

Get involved in the game and perform your absolute best to be considered for opportunities to officiate NFL games.

Keep refereeing local football or semi-pro games until you’ve gained enough experience to be considered for the NFL referee position.

Reasons to Consider Becoming an NFL Referee

Here are some good reasons why you should consider a career as an NFL referee:

  • Love for the Game: It’s easy to see why the NFL is considered America’s passion. Whether it’s for your tremendous love for the game or your favorite team, becoming an NFL official is an excellent way to get involved in the game.
  • Great Income Potential: The NFL is the most popular and profitable sports league in the US. And some of the highest-paid NFL referees take a whopping six-figure salary. You can leverage the gig economy to make more money by officiating local community games.
  • Excitement and Thrill: If you have an insatiable passion for football, then officiating NFL games offers an unmatched exhilarating experience and a sense of excitement. It puts you right back into the field and gives you that feeling of being part of the game.
  • Reputation and Respect: This position allows you to contribute to the sport’s development by inspiring the youth in the community. Your efforts and contribution will be recognized by the entire football community, including top players, coaches, fans, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Being an NFL Referee a Full-Time Job?

No, NFL referees are part-time employees who hold other jobs outside their duties as referees.

The NFL season comprises 17 games with one per week, including preseason games and playoffs, so they’re only active during that period.

How Much Do NFL Referees Make per Game?

The NFL doesn’t pay the referees on a per-game basis. They usually get a flat fee per season and receive an additional bonus per game. According to GoBankingRates, the average bonus per game is estimated to be $2,500. 

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Here are some possible alternatives to consider if you’re not a big fan of football or the NFL:

  • Become a Travel Agent: If you’re passionate about traveling and would love a job that will turn your passion into a money-making gig, then becoming a travel agent is the way to go.
  • Become a Bounty Hunter: If you love the excitement and thrill of getting into the field, tracking down and apprehending fugitives of the law to make money, then a bounty hunting career can be exceptionally rewarding.
  • Become a Consultant: Looking for a rewarding opportunity that helps individuals or businesses solve their problems? You could be a consultant and share your expert opinion to make some money.

Wrapping Up

Are you ready to make the calls on the biggest stage in football?

Follow our detailed guide to step into the exhilarating world of pro football and start officiating its big games.

Learn how to become an NFL ref, starting from the lower levels and working your way up to the major college games and leagues, and ultimately, joining the elite crew of NFL officials.

Loved our article? If yes, share it with others who might be interested in this career. And if you have any questions, do leave them in the comments section below.

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