There has never been a more eventful week in the world of NFL referees shifting into their post-officiating careers, with three linked to rules analyst positions at three different places. Football Zebras reported the trio of moves: first Jeff Triplette to ESPN, then Terry McAulay to NBC, and finally, Gene Steratore to CBS.
These aren’t the sexiest media transactions because officials — outside of perhaps Ed Hochuli — don’t have the same type of name recognition as former players. But they are important. They are network gigs and the role involves becoming at the center of the league’s most controversial moments.
Two of the more talked-about plays of last year’s season were Jesse James’ near-reception against New England and Zach Ertz’s touchdown in the Super Bowl — both of which required in-depth and on-the-spot analysis. There’s a school of thought that the NFL rules are too complicated and counter-intuitive, that it would be better to decide things by polling 100 guys at a bar. And while there’s some merit there, it’s important to have a competent voice explaining to those bar patrons why the league’s definitions doesn’t comport with their own.
A quality rules analyst can lift the broadcast or drag it down with dread. Consider the difference between Fox’s Mike Pereira and former CBS expert Mike Carey. One provides nuance and understanding, the other brought gaffes and erroneous predictions.
Having a modicum of personality also goes a long way. This new group will be well-served to show it. What’s interesting is that the guy with the highest ceiling — Steratore — is reportedly going to the network that relies on having its analyst off-camera. One would expect this to change.
What looks like an easy job on paper is more difficult in real life. Get a prediction or fact wrong and social media will let you have it. Then there’s the challenge of coming in from the clouds and finding rhythm with the rest of the booth — which can be in a different location depending on gig.
But, hey, these guys are used to the jeers that come with doing a thankless job.