Rutgers Alum Becomes NCAA Football Referee

Rick Matarante, left, and Steve Matarante, right, on the Rutgers University baseball team Rick Matarante, left, and Steve Matarante, right, when both played on the Rutgers University baseball team; photo courtesy of Steve Matarante

When Steve Matarante enrolled at Rutgers University—New Brunswick in 1981, he knew that he loved sports. However, he had no clue where that love would take him.

“I just loved sports,” said Matarante, who was a catcher for the Rutgers University baseball team. “Growing up, me and my brother got involved with everything. If there was a sport, we would play it.”

As a first-year student, Matarante soon discovered the Rutgers Recreation intramural sports program, which was, at the time, setting up an intramural program on the Cook-Douglass campuses.

“I got involved in the intramural program by both playing and officiating,” said Matarante. “I worked every sport: basketball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, softball, you name it.”  

“I loved it,” he said. “It was a way to be involved in sports I loved and to be involved in sports in general, even if it was a sport that I had never actually played.”

“Steve was very quickly recognized as one of the better officials, even though he didn’t come into the job with any other background in officiating other than his love for sports,” said Ed Levy, a staff member involved with the intramural program at the time.  

“If you put him on a game, he took control of it right away, and the kids were happy to see him because they knew that the officiating would be done right.”

Lee Schneider, a staff member working in the Dean of Students office at the time, met Matarante through his older brother, who also attended Rutgers University and played on the baseball team. The younger Matarante made an immediate impression on Schneider. 

“Steve was an ambitious, nice guy who worked very hard,” said Schneider. “When you work hard like he does, and you are good at what you do like he is, then you absolutely get opportunities, and that's what’s happened for him.” 

After his graduation from Rutgers, Matarante pursued a career in football officiating. He moved his way up the ranks, officiating high school football, as well as Division II and III football. In 2001, he joined the Division I Colonial Ivy-Patriot League as a referee and crew chief. 

“In my second full year of working in that league, I was assigned to the Harvard-Yale game,” Matarante said. “Guys work their whole careers to get to that game, and I got it in my twelfth game.

“That’s when I knew that I might be pretty good at this.” 

Steve Matarante officiating a game between Ohio State and Rutgers; Credit to Kelly Matarante

Matarante officiating a game between Rutgers and Ohio State; photo courtesy of Kelly Matarante

Matarante joined the Big East in 2007, where he officiated over 60 games as a head linesman, including the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, where he made a call that his brother, Richard, cited as indicative of his officiating skill.  

“What separates him from everyone else is his intestinal fortitude,” said the older Matarante, who also officiates collegiate football.

“Late in that game, Texas throws the ball on fourth-and-four, and the receiver catches the ball and stretches his hands over the first-down line before being tackled backwards. The line judge marks the ball where the receiver was tackled, but Steve re-marks the ball where the receiver was stopped, even though it’s not his call.”

“It was the right call, and 95% of the people who put the stripes on wouldn’t have had the nerve to make it,” Matarante said. “That’s when I knew that he was destined for great things.”

Matarante moved on to the Big Ten Conference from 2013-2017, then joined the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in 2017. He has worked five bowl and playoff games in the ACC so far, including the 2022 NCAA Championship game between Georgia and Alabama.

Matarante’s success in his officiating career has been matched by his success in a professional career in healthcare sales.

“Steve is a very personable guy,” said James Sandine, a colleague of Matarante’s. “He gets to know clients on a personal and a professional level, and he’s got a long, historic career of being a top performer.”

In Matarante’s view, both endeavors have supplemented, not detracted from, each other. 

“My work in officiating has helped me professionally, and my work professionally has helped me in officiating,” Matarante said.

“My clients know that I must have a high level of integrity in order to do what I do every Saturday, and talking with CEOs and CFOs has helped me treat football celebrities like Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer like normal human beings.” 

The connection between the skills necessary for officiating and those required for other careers has not been lost on others at Rutgers, including Paul Goobic, who now runs Recreation's intramural program.

"Our referees end up learning so much," he said. "Their experience gives them so many different skills, from conflict resolution to quick-time decision-making, that they can take with them after they leave us. It's amazing how many students will come back to us and say, 'I never realized how refereeing a basketball game set me up for a job.'"

For Goobic and others at Rutgers, Matarante also stands as an example of what their referees can do if they work hard and put their mind to officiating.

"He was out there as a student, probably getting yelled at on the Cook fields [by intramural athletes], and now he's an NCAA ref," said Goobic. "He's a great example who shows that you can do it if you want to."

Throughout his career, Matarante has also maintained a connection with Rutgers, staying in touch with Levy and Schneider, among other staff members. He often appeared at a summer class taught by Levy, speaking to an audience of thirty to forty athletes about the career opportunities available in officiating.

“It doesn’t matter what your sport is: you play it because you love it,” Matarante said. “At some point, we can’t play anymore, and if you don't make it in that profession as a player, you could still be very much involved as an official. 

“In anything that you do professionally, if you love it, you’re going to be good at it,” Matarante continued. “You're going to give it the best possible effort you can, and I just think people should be doing things they love in life.”

Matarante conferring with fellow official Duane Heydt; credit to Kelly Matarante

Matarante conferring with fellow official Duane Heydt; Kelly Matarante

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