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Report: 21 officials in developmental program could work games in 2014

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

The NFL has a developmental program for new officials. (USATSI)
The NFL has a developmental program for new officials. (USATSI)

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The NFL may not have hired full-time officials as part of the agreement to end the 2012 lockout, but it has every intention of improving the officiating, which has come under criticism this season, perhaps as soon as 2014.

On Sunday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the NFL has been training a group of officials with the possibility that they could take the field by September.

"In an effort to improve officiating next season, the league has spent this past year grooming 21 officials in its newly created developmental program with the idea that these officials will be better prepared to step into NFL games as early as next season," Schefter said on NFL Countdown.

"The 21 officials in training have spent time with current officiating crews, watching how work weekends and games unfold to get a better idea of the atmosphere they can be thrust into next season. And the belief is that many of these officials can step in and provide immediate results. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made no secret of the fact that he'd like to upgrade the league's officiating, and the league hopes that this could be just the way to do it."

Goodell isn't alone; fans, coaches and players share that sentiment, as does the NFL's VP of Officiating, Dean Blandino, who lamented in November that officials needed to be more consistent when ruling what did and did not constitute a catch, something that has been an issue throughout the season.

There were other gaffes, of course, with wide-ranging implications.

The officiating had become so problematic in recent months that it got a name-check in Week 14's "Coach Killers", a space usually reserved for the underachieving efforts of coaches and players.

Ultimately, if the officiating improves because of the 21 officials from the developmental program, it will be deemed a success. Otherwise, the league can expect the same complaints from fans, players and coaches until they get it right.

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