Graning: Where will they draw the line?

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 5, 2003

A few weeks ago I wrote about the NFL’s expansion of its recruitment of football officials. It now scouts football officials down to the high school level with an eye toward leading promising young officials into a selected college conference.

From there, the better ones are moved up to a major conference and then into the Arena, Arena2, and NFL Europe leagues. The best are taken in as NFL officials.

Realize that the NFL owns and operates those other leagues, which primarily serves as training grounds for players considered to have NFL potential.

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The system assures the NFL will have a constant source of players and officials who are indoctrinated in the league’s philosophy of play and rules enforcement.

Along those same lines, an article or two this past week told of the fear some NCAA officers and members have of the NFL influence on college football.

One columnist reminded us as early as the first Princeton v. Rutgers game back in the late 19th century some college administrators were keenly aware that the growing interest in college football would soon have the tail wagging the dog.

How right they proved to be.

Well, that cat got out of the bag a long time ago, and it is impossible for the NCAA or even all of the college presidents to get it back in the bag now.

There is not a major university or college in the country and few small ones that can exist on tuition and government subsidies alone. All must continually solicit money for the endowments.

Like it or not, the success and visibility of college sports programs have a direct impact on the success of college fund-raising.

Money drives all of this. Professional basketball and football mint money, as we all know.

I don’t want to sound paranoid or to imply the sky is falling, but think about the following possibility: The NFL already exerts what I consider undue influence on college football officiating through its recruiting and the power gained by having both still active or recently retired NFL football officials in position as football officiating supervisors in several major conferences.

Be sure as older supervisors retire, most will be replaced by NFL alumni.

The NBA’s development league operates a number of teams, several of which regularly play exhibition games against college squads.

Project that out several years, and the line between the NBA and college will become fainter and fainter until it no longer exists.

Can that happen? Certainly we hope not, but money does talk. Can the same thing happen to college football?

Even if those possibilities come to pass, there will always be plenty of opportunities at smaller colleges and junior colleges for the marginal player who simply loves the game and has not thought of playing for pay.

The same goes for football and basketball officials. There are plenty of both who are happy to work their avocation on dusty Friday nights or in cold loud gyms where their real satisfaction is from helping kids learn about fair play and healthy competition.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. He can be reached at