MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After the controversial final touchdown call at the end of the Green Bay Packers – Seattle Seahawks game, more and more of us started thinking about pro sports officials.

How do referees and umpires get to the professional level? How do officials become pros?

“You have to be pretty good to start,” said Pat Schumer, a Twin Cities official who’s done high school basketball, high school and college football, and college plus adult amateur baseball.

Schumer’s been officiating sports for more than 30 years, and went to Major League Baseball’s umpiring school.

“There was nobody out of our class who made it to the major leagues in baseball,” Schumer said.

That’s because making it to the big leagues, any big league, is tough.

“These guys have gotten there for a reason. They deserve to be there for that reason. They’ve earned their way there,” he said.


Football is the only pro-sport where the officials almost all come from the upper levels of college ball, as there is no real minor league of the NFL.

“I had a friend who recently got into the NFL,” Schumer said. “His process…was 7 or 8 years of him working in the ACC.”

But the pay in football is the lowest of the big leagues. A first year ref makes $78,000, according to ESPN. The average pay is $149,000.

“They can still consider it a part-time job,” Schumer said.

Major League Baseball

In Baseball, the umps are hired from the Major League Baseball training school and sent to the minors for an average of eight years, Schumer said.

In umpire school, there are weeks of intensive game-situations and rules education.

“It’s a 300 question rule test, I missed three questions…and finished second to an MIT graduate,” Schumer said.

With a roster of about 70 MLB umpires, the league said there is generally just one new umpire hired each year.

Major League umps start at $120,000 a year. The most veterans make $350,000.

National Basketball Association

The NBA doesn’t hire from high school or college anymore.

“They want them in their system and their style,” Schumer said.

Refs have go to the NBA Development League officiating camp, and start in D league.

There are about 60 NBA refs, the new guys make around $100,000; the vets can make $300,000.

National Hockey League

The NHL has an officiating department that recruits from around the world, but the NHL has been criticized for having the least oversight over its officials.

It is a challenge to ref hockey, considering the skating skills necessary to keep up with the fast-moving game. Starting refs make $115,000, and that goes up to $225,000.


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