Oct 16, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; NCAA field judge Karina Tovar waits during a time out during the second quarter between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Pittsburgh Panthers at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports | Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

With the hiring of Karina Tovar as a referee in the NFL, there are now four on-field female referees in the league.

Tovar joins Sarah Thomas and Robin DeLorenzo as the three female on-field officials in the NFL. There have also been a number of women in the NFL replay booth, including trailblazer Terri Valenti. Maia Chaka is no longer with the NFL

The selection of Tovar by the NFL was celebrated by Sam Rapoport, an out league executive who has been instrumental in providing opportunities for women in football.

We’ve gotten a couple questions about whether Tovar is LGBTQ. She is not. She is a straight woman with a husband and children who lives in the Los Angeles area.

As a high school and college football official in the L.A. area for a decade, I’ve worked with Tovar many times. She is loved and respected by seemingly everyone who works with her.

My favorite memory working with Tovar was the 2018 American Championship Bowl for the California Community College Athletic Association. The game pitted San Bernardino Valley College against Allan Hancock College.

During the game, there was a crazy blocked try in the middle of a fierce fourth-quarter comeback that resulted in multiple fouls. It was one of the most unexpected plays I’ve ever officiated.

You can see it here:

I remember two things from Tovar on that play.

First, and you can see this in the video, she managed the separation of teams perfectly. In a situation like that — fourth quarter, tempers flaring — she thought to separate colors. Her instinct was spot-on.

Second, she then came into the officials’ huddle and worked with me, as the white hat, to sort through the multiple-foul situation. And she was there as I was giving an announcement (frankly, one of the worst I’ve ever given) about the complicated play.

When security came to our locker room after the game to escort us to our cars — there had been a brawl between the teams after the game — Tovar again was pragmatic and thoughtful.

Every time I have worked with Tovar, she has had a professional, calming effect. She’ll be a great NFL official.

When will we see an all-female NFL referee crew for a game?

With now three female officials on the field, it’s interesting to wonder when the NFL might put together an all-woman crew for a game.

Last season, the NFL attracted appreciation and attention for creating an all-Black crew for one game. It was the first time they’d done that. For years, Black officials have felt overlooked by many college officiating supervisors and even the NFL. An all-Black crew sent an important statement.

An all-female crew would do the same.

There are two main issues standing in the way.

First, of course, the NFL needs at least seven female officials, plus two in the booth: the replay official and the replay assistant. There is replay assistant Desiree Abrams, who spoke at Night of Pride at the Super Bowl this year, hosted by GLAAD and the NFL. She spoke at the NFL’s Pride event at the Super Bowl this year. There are also a couple replay officials who are women, including Denise Crudup and Artenzia Young-Seigler.

So the league is essentially four short on the field, as the replay booth is covered. Though even when they have seven women on the field, my best guess is they won’t just jump on the chance. In fact, they should wait.

And that brings up the second issue: positions. Who will work umpire, and who will wear the white hat as referee? So far, none of them fill either position.

That second part is crucial. To be sure, various female officials, including Tovar, have worn the white hat as “referee” for lower levels of the game. Yet even when the NFL has seven female officials, there has to be a match for positions.

Umpire and referee are most important. The vast majority of officials at the college and NFL level can rotate through a flank position (line judge or down judge in the NFL), or a deep, which is side judge, back judge and field judge.

Yet who on an all-women crew is ready to be referee or umpire in an NFL game? That will be a determining factor. The Referee is the face and voice of the crew. That person has to understand TV production, communication, the visual aspect of the game.

Referee, particularly at the NFL level, takes a completely different skill set from all the other positions. And right now, the NFL hasn’t identified a woman who is a referee.

Back to the question: When will there be an NFL referee crew that is made of all women? It’s likely around 10 years. That would be about 2034. Less than that would be really fast to develop what they’ll need.

It depends in large part on the pipeline of female officials. While that pipeline has some potential, earning a spot as an NFL referee is still tough. Even the best college referees go through a couple years in another position once they enter the NFL.

And this assumes Thomas or others don’t leave. They’ve already lost Chaka. Being an NFL referee is a grind. Not everyone lasts 15 to 20 years, of their own choosing.

Regardless, we’ll be cheering for Tovar and every other official. Officiating a football game perfectly is essentially impossible. Everyone is doing their best job.

You can see more about Tovar at Behind The Stripes, a documentary film project produced by Dean Blandino, Shantel Hansen and me.