The NFL, continuing a movement toward younger officials, has selected nine college officials to replace those who either retired or were removed from their league jobs last month.
Five of the nine new officials are 40 or younger, and none is older than 47.
"Historically, the league has wanted its new officials to have 10 years of major college experience," said Barry Mano, president of the National Assn. of Sports Officials. "That obviously has changed."
The nine officials are: Greg Steed, 35, and Eugene Steratore, 40, of the Big East Conference; Derick Bowers, 42, and Dan Ferrell, 47, of the Big 12 Conference; Craig Wrolstad, 37, of the Pacific 10 Conference; Scott Helverson, 40, of the Big Ten Conference; Lee Dyer, 44, of the Southeastern Conference; Gary Cavaletto, 47, of the Western Athletic Conference, and Roy Ellison, 37, of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Wrolstad, a side judge, has worked in the Pac-10 since 1999. He also officiated games in NFL Europe last year.
Steed and Steratore have five years of experience in the Big East. Steed's first year of NFL Europe experience will be this season.
An officials' source, who requested anonymity because he is forbidden to publicly discuss league matters, said the formal hiring of the nine officials is pending, but expected.
The source said the nine officials must still pass physicals that include the critical "body mass index" measurement. Three veteran officials, Sanford Rivers, Steve Wilson and Jim Quirk, could lose their jobs if they do not meet body mass index standards by July.
Additionally, the source said the league has not resolved potential grievances that could be filed by the eight officials told last month that they had until March 20 to either resign or be fired.
Among those eight were 21-year NFL veterans Ron Spitler and Tom Johnson and 19-year veteran Dave Anderson. NFL Referees Assn. attorney Mike Arnold was not available for comment.
"Guys have to pass the physical conditioning muster, and it obviously doesn't hurt to be younger," the officials' source said.
While NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league's turnover in officials is "normal," some officials argue the firings and stronger focus on youth and fitness in the ranks are a result of the league overreacting to a series of controversial calls last season.
Aiello said it is league policy not to discuss the officials' personnel matters, including hirings and firings. Aiello said the league guidelines for new officials require 10 years of experience, with at least five years in the NCAA, NFL Europe or the Arena Football League. Aiello said the other five years can be at the high school level.
Mano said Art McNally, the league's former director of officials, required 10 years of major college experience for NFL newcomers. McNally retired in 1990. Aiello did not say whether the league's current hiring policy has been altered recently.
Several of the new officials were praised by their recent bosses.
Jim Blackwood, the WAC's supervisor of officials, said field judge Cavaletto "was the top in his position for the last four years.... He's a great official, with unblemished character."
David Parry of the Big Ten said Helverson, a former wide receiver at Iowa and eight-year official in the conference, "consistently rated as our No. 1 or 2 back judge.... I told the NFL they had picked a quality candidate."