Keeping Score

I Was a Replacement Ref: Inside the NFL’s 7 Weirdest Weeks

Jerry Frump, a banker who lives in the Chicago area, has refereed college football for 30 years. But this summer, when the NFL announced it was looking into casting replacements, he jumped at the chance – putting his college-football career in jeopardy in the process. TIME talks to a replacement ref about the opportunity of a lifetime – and the severe “experience gap” he witnessed among colleagues who were asked to make the leap from Division III college football to the National Football League

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NFL referee Jerry Frump

TIME’s Sean Gregory spoke this morning with Jerry Frump, a longtime college-football referee who served as a replacement ref during the recent NFL labor dispute. A complete transcript is now live at Keeping Score.

For now, here’s a brief excerpt from the interview, focusing on Frump’s training and his colleagues:

Sean Gregory: Where were you the night before your first preseason game, and how did that go?

Jerry Frump: It was certainly a little bit of tension and a little bit of nervousness, but — I don’t want this to come across the wrong way, but — I remember I made the transition from Division III to Division I, and it was a huge adjustment. [Frump had previously refereed in Division I-AA, a step below the highest college level, which is now known as the Football Championship Subdivision.] You hear people in baseball and other sports say, “You know, the game finally slows down, and it’s just a matter of you catching up with the game as opposed to slowing down.” And it was a big adjustment between Division III and Division I. And I remember when I [served as an NFL replacement ref] in 2001, although I was not as experienced as I would be, obviously, 10 or 14 years later, the difference between the [Division I-AA] which I had been working and the NFL wasn’t as radical as Division III to Division I.

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So working that first preseason game, I went into it confident. The biggest thing is just trying to get your crew to work as a unit. And there are a lot of things that we had not done on the field because none of us had ever worked together at that point. This was the first time we had this on-field opportunity. So it was a little ragged. There were some delays in ball administration, and we weren’t really fluid in reporting penalties and getting the ball put back into play. And as a referee, that’s always one of the main concerns and frustrations I have, is the tempo of the game, because it’s not only frustrating for us, it affects the teams, it affects the fans, it affects everybody. And so that first preseason game was a little ragged. But every week we knew what we had done wrong, and we worked on it. I have a reputation — everybody jokes about my seven-hour pregames. They’re not seven-hour pregames, but I’m kind of a perfectionist, I guess. And I learned long ago from my first Division I supervisor to be very thorough and make sure your guys go out there ready. I don’t think we ever went on the field not ready. We may have not been as smooth. We may have not done some things as well as we would have liked. But we were ready and prepared to officiate the game. Each preseason game, we got a little better. By the end, I think that the NFL office recognized that we hadn’t had any train wrecks and that we were doing fairly well and that we were fortunate enough, when we got into the regular season, that our crew had the CBS national game three weeks in a row.

What were the three games?

We started off doing Tennessee, then we had the Jets in Pittsburgh, then we had Houston and Denver.  I was supposed to have had the Philadelphia Eagles hosting the New York Giants Sunday night, which has now been turned over to the regular officials.

You mentioned that the jump from I-AA to the NFL wasn’t as big as Division III to I-AA. But as you know, a lot of the refs, I believe, weren’t much higher than Division III. So is that a fair concern, that some of these guys were jumping all the way from Division III to the NFL?

Correct.

In your case, you were O.K., but is it fair to say that for other folks, that must have been just an unbelievable jump?

I think that’s fair to say.

I think that at least the guys on my crew who had not had that kind of experience tried to prepare them and tried to get them ready for that. As we went into the preseason, and again as they experienced that firsthand in our first preseason game, the second preseason game, they began to adjust. To say we did everything right and didn’t make mistakes would be a joke, you know.

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But there’s some things in every level of football that become judgments. You’ve heard it said that if you call foul on every play … that’s certainly true if you want to enforce the letter of the law in the rule book, but no one wants to see a football game like that. So you’ve got to learn what is accepted and what is really a foul when it comes to holding and defensive pass interference. And those calls that sometimes everybody’s looking and everybody’s got an opinion. Certainly the NFL gave us a lot of film, a lot of direction on what should and should not be called, but until you’re out there and you see it and it happens in front of you firsthand, it’s very difficult. And make no mistake, these players at this level, they know what you’re looking at. They know what they can and cannot get away with. I think somebody said that the players kind of look to us like the substitute-schoolteacher syndrome, like, Let’s see what we can get away with. And that was pretty evident. But my particular crew made it a point just to take charge of the game right away, because we knew that once it started getting away from you, it’s going to be too hard to bring it back.

The night before the New England–Nashville game, not you personally but your crew, looking at it honestly, were you guys an NFL-regular-season-ready officiating crew?

No, I don’t think you could say that.

We didn’t have that experience. You can’t say that guys that had worked four preseason games and prior to that had worked, whether it be [Division I-AA] or worked Division II, Division III — there’s no way you can compare us with the guys that have had X number of years at the NFL level. No one jumps into the NFL from Division II or Division III, and very few guys even from [Division I-AA]. Most of these guys have spent years working at the Division I BCS level, where they worked in front of 75 or 100 people, and you know, they’re accustomed to working with replay and with a lot of the stuff our guys had never been exposed to.

In the preseason and into the regular season, some of the stuff — calling the wrong team out, and a touchback when it wasn’t a touchback, some of the obvious stuff — did that bug you? Did that worry you? As an official, did that bother you, that you know you were all getting grouped together and getting a bad name? Because there were some pretty big gaffes by relatively few people.

It’s true, and those things happen, and I suppose it was disappointing. Certainly no one did it intentionally. It’s part of the learning process and part of the experience gap that these guys had. There was a sense of pure nervousness, of confidence that was lacking in some cases, and you know, these stadiums are a lot different than what you run into in college. With all the media and stuff on the sidelines, sometimes it’s actually difficult to tell which one is the press-box side and which one’s not the press-box side. So you know, I think I’ve even turned the wrong way myself. So I know it can happen.

Looking back big-picture, a lot of fans have said this was a disservice. No offense against you guys — you did your best — but for the game, there was a lot of potential bad stuff that could have happened, that maybe did happen, that this was a real disservice to the game and could hurt the game. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?

We were pawns. This really became a business deal. I told my crew when we first got together, I said, “Gentlemen, you’re now working for probably one of the largest corporations in the country, maybe even the world. We need to keep that in mind, because we need to conduct ourselves professionally and in a way that does not degrade or disrespect what they stand for.” This was [the NFL’s] choice. They chose to take this position in the negotiation with the union. Whether I would have [taken the job] — if I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have. We did the best we could.

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We tried to be the fair third party between two teams to make sure that the outcome of the game was not determined by an unfair act. Was every single one of us up to the challenge? Probably not. They didn’t have the opportunity – they being the NFL – they didn’t have the opportunity to bring in people like they did in 2001 that had the greater level of experience, where the jump in talent would not have been as great.

When you saw the Seattle–Green Bay play on Monday Night Football and the reaction to it, did you kind of know that it was over?

I thought that, certainly. We had heard that there were negotiations going on, and I felt that this would certainly be another nail to force this to a quicker finish. I thought at that stage, before that game, I thought we might get one more game. But it was pretty clear to me that they were getting down into the finishing touches on the negotiations and that it was going to come to an end soon. It would’ve been nice to have had one more game, if for no other reason than to get together with my crew, so that we knew we could kind of say some goodbyes and so forth. Because these guys are in other parts of the country, and although we can still communicate by phone and e-mail and so forth, it still would’ve been nice to wish them the best in person.

What was it like, when you were walking into your office or passing by some guy on the street in Chicago, when they were like, “Hey, you were that guy …” Did stuff like that ever happen?

You know, I had it happen with a bus driver.

Where was it? In Chicago?

Yeah.

So you get on the bus, and he’s like, Hey, I know you?

He said, “Hey, I saw you on TV.”

Was this a bus driver who knew who you were, or was this a one-time bus experience?

Nah, I mean, you kind of see some of the same bus drivers over and over, but —

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So he said, Hey, and you said — what was that conversation like?

It wasn’t somebody that I knew personally. He said, “I saw you. You’re No. 37.”

That was your ref number?

Yes.

And what did you say back?

I kind of smiled and said, “Yeah, you did.”

What was your reaction when you heard they reached an agreement?

It was kind of a big disappointment. Kind of a lump in your stomach. You knew it was going to happen someday, and you knew that it was right around the corner. It’s like I said — as a crew, we knew that it was there, but we just were so close and wanted to get one more.

To read the complete transcript, click here.

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55 comments
alinfranter
alinfranter

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Maxshoesbulkbk
Maxshoesbulkbk

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Maxshoesbulkbk
Maxshoesbulkbk

It’s like I said — as a crew, we knew that it was there, but we just were so close and wanted to get one more..:Recommended a comprehensive trade website http://www.shoesmallshop.com/ sports and life"!

Houndog2g
Houndog2g

That's what happens when you bring in scabs!!

Dderek111
Dderek111

I guess being a scab makes no impact on this guy. What a jerk.

Yobybbag
Yobybbag

The title should of read, " I was a SCAB for 7 weeks in the NFL."

Maxshoesbulkbk
Maxshoesbulkbk

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Maxshoesbulkbk
Maxshoesbulkbk

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Matt W.
Matt W.

While it is possible they would have gotten the call right, everyone acts like the normal NFL refs have never blown a call. They could have blown the call as well. These replacement refs were over their head for the most part, but they did the best they could. Don't blame them.... Blame the NFL and in some part the NFRA for not getting a deal done faster.

get ovet it
get ovet it

the whole game was a mess if you ask me not just Tates score. The pakers wouldn't have scored thier touchdown if the refs didnt give seahawks a penality that shouldn't have been called. seattle would have won the game regardless so quit crying about it. either way seattle played a good game and the pakers lost!

Cfvgb
Cfvgb

 the Gren By Pakers.

lol

Wally Wallmisty
Wally Wallmisty

It makes no difference if you are taking someone's work at a coal mine, a brake factory, or on the NLF playing field.  A scab is a scab.

Only1withis1
Only1withis1

everybody messes up a little on their first day at work....only a few don't, they tried.

BobbyBarker
BobbyBarker

You guys keep beating on D3 refs being the problem but not a single one in the disaster that caused the NFL to finally reach an agreement was D3.  Most of them were freaking HIGH SCHOOL refs.  

gg
gg

SCAB!!!!!!

Cel4les
Cel4les

Hire this guy next for the NFL. He knows what he's talking about.

Guesty
Guesty

Did the interviewer really ask about New England playing against "Nasvhille"?  Really?

guest
guest

football is not a life or death situation.  it's a luxury.  

Kathy T. Garcia
Kathy T. Garcia

 It wouldn't happen because they're considered scabs but it would be nice if a few of the good ones are brought into the ref developmental league. ..GreatFestival.NotlonG.CoM

Pauleyrpt
Pauleyrpt

I agree that the hiring corporation takes responsibility for the 'end product' of their decision. And so all of the criticsm of the replacemnt refs, seemingly aimed at the personal level, is a slap in the face of any other temporary worker in the daily work force. And let's keep things in perspective...uhhh, anybody remember the good 'ol days of 'ghost surgery'??

Albin
Albin

In the old days these were called "scabs".  Not that they were to blame, just opportunistic for a few weeks pay.  The boss was to blame for putting the scabs into the unloved spot.   It's a bad labor relations stunt, and now America knows it even if it doesn't want to admit it applies outside the sacred NFL. 

Marsh
Marsh

Everybody makes mistakes and really what's passed is past. Now please, please, go back to your life of anonymity. Complain about being "treated unfairly" all you want but you made a mistake. Refusing to acknowledge that is not going to change results or public opinion. I can think of worse ways to acquire the oft-cited "15 minutes of fame" but as I see it, yours has passed and it's time to move forward. Thank you for your two months of service to the league and its fans. Sorry it ended like this.

John
John

I guess the guy asking the questions during the interview was about as clueless as the Replacement Refs.  There is no team called Nashville in the NFL.  Retard!!

jessec829
jessec829

Using the term "retard" pejoratively is more clueless than any bad officiating or not knowing that the Tennessee Titans (who are based in Nashville) are not the Nashville Titans.

 

Henk Vandenbergh
Henk Vandenbergh

In real life everyone will run into people that either are or appear to be incompetent. That said, the big question is: "If someone is hired to do a job that he can't handle, who is the screw-up?" It usually is the person doing the hiring.

Chase Walsh
Chase Walsh

yeah no one realizes that without them we wouldn't have had football those weeks.  It wouldn't happen because they're considered scabs but it would be nice if a few of the good ones are brought into the ref developmental league.

Duga12
Duga12

I know Jerry and he is a great guy.  He and his crew were obviously rated near the top out of all the replacement officials.  It's too bad that one call had to give all replacement refs a bad name.

Smithiii John
Smithiii John

It wasnt  that "one " call it was numerous calls in eveygame. These guys were out matched by the speed of an NFL game compared to Div III simplle as that. they did not belong on the field and the NFL blew it big time

Rich_b2
Rich_b2

Sorry gents - its shared possession - your forgetting one part of the rule, you don't have possession until some part of your body (usually your feet) touch the ground.  Anything can happen while players are in the air.

washingsocks
washingsocks

Wrong. You are equating "possession" with "control". Jennings had "control" of the ball first, and even if he didn't, Tate's had came off for a moment giving Jennings control at that time. Since Jennings had "control" first it is his ball to lose and he never lost control. Therefore there cannot be simultaneous "possession".

Luke Boyd
Luke Boyd

Jennings caught the ball, Tate caught Jennings...

Felder
Felder

It was a controversial call, but not a bad call.  It is pretty apparent both players came down to the turf with the football in shared possession -- which means it goes to the offense!  As for the offensive interference, that literally never gets called on a Hail Mary pass.  The only time I've ever seen a penalty on that type of play, it was defensive interference that resulted in a first and goal on the 1-yard line.

Giang Nguyen
Giang Nguyen

Never or Less , After reviewing , they could corrected the call then It would be A heck of Lot Better . Offensive interferred and the game is Over  ( no times left )  or of Jenning 's interception and a touchback for the Packs .

They could holding up the game as long as they can to make a correct call , and may be they are still Here this week end ???? 

Bribos1099
Bribos1099

No fielder yer right...it wasnt a bad call. IT WAS THE WORST CALL IN THE HISTORY OF ORGANIZED SPORTS!

That said, what needs to be said is that there is every reason to believe that, once the play happened, the result was orchestrated to deflect attention from the real problem: "Fidel Goodell!" In order so stroke his massive ego the man held the country hostage while playing his little king of the hill game to show everybody how important he is. The man is a megalomaniac and needs to be shown the door...NOW!

Matt Radix
Matt Radix

It was not shared possession.  Go watch it again, please and note these items:  1) Jennings caught the ball with both hands and started coming down with it 2) Tate then put an arm up and onto the ball 3) Jennings pulls it into his chest and tate is behind Jennings 4) on the ground Tate releases the ball briefly and repositions his arm again.  It's over and the Seahawks were awarded the win, but don't say he caught that ball.

You're Wrong
You're Wrong

Battling for position happens on every Hail Mary. Blatantly shoving someone out of the way right in front of the ref does not. It HAS to be called. And no, it wasn't shared possession. Not even remotely close to shared possession. 

Matt W.
Matt W.

 Maybe it does "have" to be called, but how many times has it NOT been called even with regular NFL refs. Everyone is so quick to assume they would have made the correct call. We'll never know, but believe me, they've had their share of blown calls as well.

Bill Sachs
Bill Sachs

"Not a bad call" You must be a Seahawks fan. It was a bad call and it will always be remembered as one of the worst calls that decided a game.

dude3
dude3

weather or not it was a touchdown, it would have gotten called for offensive pass interference, so it wouldn't have counted either way.  there was more than one blown call in  just that one play

Trajan Saldana
Trajan Saldana

it's officiated, not refereed

Linstef
Linstef

who cares their gone

Bojorco
Bojorco

But it would apply to any ref, regular or replacement, so the fact that the replacement refs aren't working NFL games now doesn't matter for the terminology.

ryreegs
ryreegs

It's "they're", not "their" ;)

UK user
UK user

comma, comma, comma. Whether the comma is placed within the quotation marks varies by country (e.g., US is different than UK).

Commacommacomma
Commacommacomma

 It's "they're," not ' "they're", ' ;) Comma goes inside the punctuation!

Linstef
Linstef

So sorry thank you for the lesson.........


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