Two days after former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was sent away for 15 months for his association with gamblers in putting the fix on basketball games, Ed Hochuli, an NFL referee for 19 years, said he doesn't see it being a problem in his sport.
Hochuli said too many checks are in place in the NFL, including background checks given to officials every two years that include a check of financial information. NFL officials are forbidden from going to cities where there are casinos during the season without permission from the league office. Perception, Hochuli, said is primary in maintaining integrity. But certainly some it was shattered for all sports by the Donaghy case.
"I would imagine that for a lot of people it definitely caused pause for concern,'' Hochuli said. "All officials in any sport I know were upset by that, the integrity issue. We're all about integrity. It's the most important thing we have to maintain because people have to trust that you're calling a fair game. Sort of clouded us all.
"Now I can't comment on other sports, but I can tell you in the NFL that I just can't imagine that sort of thing happening, not just because of the integrity but because of the scrutiny we are under. Instant replay. The fact that you can fix mistakes through instant replay is big. Because if there is somebody that was doing that, you have the opportunity to fix it. The grading system that we've got, because we have one game a week the league is able to grade with a tremendous amount of scrutiny the officials on every play. And if an official was making mistakes, he'd be fired. We have officials who are let go every year because of grades. And so that is another significant check on that sort of thing."
Hochuli is a partner in Jones, Skelton and & Hochuli, a law firm in Phoenix, and regularly has to attend legal conferences in Las Vegas. He applies for permission from the league every time.
"When I'm there you do everything possible to avoid a casino,'' he said. "I've many times gone through the kitchen to get to a meeting room so I am not on the floor of the casino. A lot of that is so people don't have concern, `Gee, Hochuli was seen in Las Vegas.'''
NFL officials undergo random drug tests and are forbidden from consuming alcohol 36 hours prior to kickoff. A first offense results in a year suspension.
"There is a very high personal conduct code," he said. "As officials we don't resent it. We like it. We like the fact that we're held to that very high standard because integrity is what it's all about. So in answer to your simple question that I made a very long answer, sure [Donaghy's case] was very concerning for us. Not that we're concerned that there would be anything like that in the NFL, but just because of the pale that it casts on officiating in general.''