At the end of each college football season, top teams compete in the College Bowl. To be invited to play in a bowl game, teams must first be members of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, then win six games without a losing record during the current season. The stakes are high for college football fans, with nearly 400,000 TV viewers tuning in for the Rose Bowl in 2018. Fans rely heavily on the judgment of the professionals chosen to referee these games, so salaries must be competitive to attract the best in the business.
In general, sports referees made $26,800 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job doesn't require a college degree, putting them below the median wage of $37,336 for those with high school diplomas in the U.S. Perhaps most notable is the fact that a referee often doesn't work full-time, and because games often fall on nights and weekends, they can usually hold it as a side gig.
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When compared to other sports, football referees make more per minute than others. For 60 regulation minutes of game time, a football referee can make up to $3,000, but of the four major sports types, football referees work the fewest games. The pay increases for special events like bowl games, but only the best referees are chosen to work those games.
How Bowl Referees Are Chosen
If you're a college football referee, you can't simply apply to officiate a bowl game. The College Football Playoff, a postseason tournament, determines which conferences provide referees for each of the major bowls. Division 1-A Conferences include the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, Mid-American and FBS Independents.
Becoming an NCAA Referee
Those who aspire to be professional referees at the college sports level should start by getting as much referee experience as they can. You can do this by signing up to referee local high school and minor league games and going through referee training. Get in touch with a local athletics conference and join, if possible. Ask what you need to do to become a college football official and take those steps. Study the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, and get in touch with the organization to find out what you need to do to officiate at the college level. By that time, the more experience and knowledge you have, the more of an edge you'll have in achieving your goal.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: High school graduates who work full time had median weekly earnings of $718 in second quarter
- NY Times: Earning Their Stripes as Umpires and Referees
- CBS Sports: Which conference refs will be officiating the College Football Playoff?
- Study.com: How to Become a Professional Referee: Education and Career Roadmap