NEW YORK —
Thomas said she's only met Eastin once, before Eastin became the first woman to officiate an NFL game, on Sept. 9, 2012. She said the two have not spoken about Eastin's experience. The NFL didn't pursue those it considered finalists for permanent positions so it wouldn't affect their college officiating schedules.
"She did a good job, and we'll continue with Shannon in her development as part of this program," Blandino said. "She's one of several women that we have on our radar screen."
The NFL, with annual revenue of about $9.7 billion, used backup officials for three weeks last season before signing an eight-year labor agreement. Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to fans after many of the replacement crews' calls were disputed, though he said initiatives agreed to in the new labor deal, such as the creation of the training pool of new officials, would improve the league.
The NFL will have 119 game-day officials next season — 17 crews of seven — and while most are part-time employees, the league is in the process of hiring four or five on a full-time basis, Blandino said. If any openings occur, they would be filled with someone from the training pool.
"Hopefully, through our developmental program this offseason, we'll have one or two officials distinguish themselves from the group and we would pick that official," Blandino said.
Thomas's confidence makes her stand out, he said.
"She looks the part, she acts the part, she's confident," Blandino said. "She doesn't shy away from making decisions. She doesn't let external factors affect her decisions. That's one of the really important things that we look for in an official."
Thomas, 5-foot-11, was a forward/guard at the University of Mobile in Alabama. With two brothers, she often played sports with boys.
In 2009 she became the first woman to officiate a college football bowl game: the Little Caesars Bowl between Ohio University and Marshall University.
Asked if her kids think she's the coolest mom on the planet, Thomas responded: "Well, of course they do."
"Not because I officiate, because I'm their mom," she said.