Gridiron NSW (GNSW) calls on the services of a combination of fully trained officials (called full timers) and volunteers from clubs to fill the gaps. The NSW games use a crew of 5 officials – Referee, Umpire, Linesman, Line Judge and Back Judge. In interstate games a crew of 7 takes the field, when Side Judge and Field Judge are added. The officiating crew is the “third team” on the field.
All full-time officials are members to the NSW Gridiron Officials Association (NSWGOA) which in turn is a member of the Australian Gridiron Officials Association (AGOA).
AGOA is responsible for accreditation of all officials in Australia under the Development Program which is approved by the Australian Sports Commission. It is truly a professional level program and many skills are transferrable between officiating and normal day jobs.
GNSW has a highly successful track record in interstate games. The professional level of officiating in NSW has been a contributing factor, along with a high standard of coaching. The style of officiating in NSW is results oriented with an emphasis on game management. The key to successful officiating is communication with other crew member, players, coaches and administrators.
AGOA in turn are members to Gridiron Australia (GA) which is the governing body for American Football in Australia. NSWGOA officials are active at GA and AGOA Executive level, contributing to the development of the game.
Interstate and international opportunities exist such as New Zealand, American Samoa and World cup games held on different continents. A few officials at their own cost have visited the US, Britain and Ireland. One Australian trained official now works in England.
Most officials are motivated by a strong love of the game. However, some are motivated by the complexity of the rules. After all, the game has been described as “collision chess”.
Most watched on television are NFL games from the US, but College level games are also found on 1HD and ESPN during the US college season from September thru January. Championship College Bowl games are viewable at the end of December.
Officials start at Level 0 (Trainee). To move to Level 1, the trainee needs to complete 10 games with satisfactory field assessment at the end. A practical rules and mechanics (positioning) exam is also required. Level 2 is the equivalent of a professional with some years experience. Successful officials come from a variety of backgrounds such as officiating in other sports, player, coach and general life experience.
NSWGOA Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How much do I need to know about the rules?
A. A general knowledge of the rules obtained from watching games on television is the basis. There are some differences between NCAA college rules and NFL professional rules but the rules are now converging because of the primary aim of player safety.
Q. Is training provided?
A. Most training is provided by on-field mentoring during games. Successful officials use an iterative process of – game experience, text book, checking with other officials, more game experience. While the rules are complicated, officiating tends to favour experiential learners. Experiential learning is the preferred option by other professions. Short courses are also scheduled.
Q. Do I need a car?
A. Sydney is notoriously difficult to find permanent ground bookings, so travel is required to grounds. Game fees tend to cover petrol costs.
Q. What time commitment is required?
A. Games for high school students (Colts) are held on Friday nights from February thru May lasting around 75 minutes. Adult (senior) games are held September thru December on Saturday nights. Senior games can last up to 3 hours. Some flexibility in game allocation is possible, provided a minimum number of games are covered each season to maintain accreditation.
Q. What game expenses are paid?
A. In the past some trainee officials treated officiating as a weekend job. This is unrealistic as officials probably break even. Game fees/expenses are paid at the end of the season. Insurance (currently $60 per annum) is deducted from your game fees/expenses at the end of the year.
Q. Are there uniform costs?
A. Initially we provide you temporarily with a striped (zebra) shirt, whistle, yellow flag. Should you decide to proceed with ongoing attendance, we order the full uniform from the US. Your game fees should cover this cost as the uniforms are long lasting over many seasons.
Q. Am I covered by insurance?
A. Insurance is compulsory and officiating without insurance puts you personally at risk of being sued. You need to keep up any health cover insurance you currently hold. The good news is that there is no record of any official having to claim. Safety of officials is as important as player safety.
Q. How do I get started?
A. Contact Philip Webb who will send you some material.