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Working as a National Football League referee is not an easy occupation, and new fans may see mostly older-looking refs on television and wonder if there are any rules in terms of their ages. How old are NFL referees, exactly?
The average age for an NFL referee is 51 years old. Among minimum requirements for the job is a mandate of 10 years of officiating experience ~ and at least 5 of those years must have been at the levels of varsity college or other professional football leagues.
Not counting the postseason, the 122 officials oversee 272 regular-season NFL games. The best get selected to work playoff games, and the best of the best get to ump the Super Bowl ~ with its top $5,000 single-game payment.
And anyone who closely watches referees during NFL games must notice the physical demands ~ scurrying about 120 yards of length and 53⅓ yards of width for a regulation field.
As the average age of NFL referees is 51, that means about half are older than that. Why so old?
We already established that 51 is the average age for NFL refs. But what is the overall range? Do they ref into their 80s?
Through the 2022 NFL season, the oldest referee was Tony Corrente, who fans might have noticed over the years as No. 99. He retired after that season at age 70.
Corrente was the last NFL referee from the 1990s, having been hired as a back judge in 1995. In all, he helped supervise 20 postseason games ~ 8 Wild-Card Playoff games, 5 Divisional Playoff games, 6 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl XLI.
Through 2022, that would be Shawn Hochuli, born in June 1978, making him 44 that season. He is the son of retired longtime NFL ref Ed Hochuli, and he wears jersey No. 83.
Shawn Hochuli’s first NFL game was as a side judge in 2014, which would have made him age 36 at the beginning of his career.
That’s only for his NFL officiating career. Previously he worked as a ref in the Pac-12 Conference, and in professional arena football games. He was the head referee for ArenaBowl XXIV.
Not only do these game officials have to run around 57,600 square feet of turf for 60-plus minutes a game, in often-challenging environmental conditions before huge audiences, they must make decisions instantaneously.
And sometimes they are wrong, making the job that much more difficult.
These officials work for very high-salaried performers and big corporations and must make split-second decisions in games that move at amazing speeds.
It was not easy before technology took over. It’s much harder now with video replays of calls, and slow-motion digitized video being instantly conveyed to millions of fans at home.
With all the demands, why aren’t NFL officials younger?
On top of the minimum 10 years of officiating experience, including at least 5 years working at the top college level or in another pro league, NFL officials must belong to a professional organization, or have a history as a player or coach.
It goes without saying that NFL referees must know all the game’s rules ~ and nuances, such as how to reset plays to manage game clocks.
Referee veterans and hopefuls alike must be in the best physical condition possible, because they must be able to run all over the field. Finally, they must have officiated a certain number of football games over a 3-year period. Basically, they shouldn’t have taken a break from refereeing before trying to get into NFL games.
The NFL has quite the conundrum: How to ensure they get the most knowledgeable, experienced referees, while at the same time having referees with things like eyesight, hearing, and memory that haven’t declined with years.
What might be the toughest physical limitations to refereeing in the top professional football stage?
It’s common knowledge that the eyesight of most human beings tends to deteriorate over time. So some fans believe old referees may not see when a knee touches the ground, or a hand holding a jersey. Games in the NFL are like baseball: They can be true games of inches. And often it takes keen eyes to see everything going on.
We mentioned running around 57,000-plus square feet for over an hour outdoors. They also must stand almost all that time (except breaks between quarters and halves) of games. Ever had a job where you could not sit entire shifts? That alone can burn calories. Add running and heat, cold, or freezing winds, and it takes a toll on the body.
As with the players, potential to get hurt on the field increases as a body ages.
As with everything else mentioned above, as we age, we tend to slow down in terms of our maximum running speed. Can refs in their 60s keep up with the lightning-fast wide receivers of today’s NFL game? Ever seen a player sprint alone for the end zone on a long run ~ and notice how he pulls far away from the last following referee?
Question: What might have been Shawn Hochuli’s most-famous moment as a young NFL referee?
Answer: In the National Football Conference playoff game featuring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams, he called Tom Brady for unsportsmanlike conduct ~ the first such penalty for the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback of his illustrious career.
Q.: How many referees are needed for NFL games?
A.: 7. The referee (which is the head, senior member of each officiating team), umpire, head linesman, line judge, field judge (sometimes called a back umpire), back judge, and center judge.
Q.: Do NFL referees actually have to “keep up” with the players?
A.: Not everyone thinks so. Said a commenter on a Reddit post in 2018, “Referees don’t need to keep up with the players, they need to be in the right positions to enforce the rules.”