While we usually say that the 119 NFL officials are back in the saddle this week, it may be more accurate to say they are back at their dining room tables, their home offices, or their desks for this year’s annual officiating clinic, which is exclusively being held in a virtual manner from July 15-18. Traditionally, the clinic is where all officials gather in Plano, Texas to review new rules, points of emphasis, and mechanics. However, while the fate of the NFL season continues to be shrouded in mystery, a virtual clinic has been prepared for the officials as a way to responsibly assemble to learn about what’s new and what’s true for the 2020 NFL season.
During the clinic, officials will be trained on new rules and mechanics like usual, but will be doing so by virtual participation in meetings with the Officiating Department’s new triumvirate: Walt Anderson, senior vice president of Officiating, Training and Development, Perry Fewell, senior vice president of Officiating Administration, and Al Riveron, senior vice president of Officiating. Breakout sessions by position will also take place, led by regional officiating coordinators Bill Leavy (referees), Garth DeFelice (umpires), Wayne Mackie, Gary Slaughter (line of scrimmage officials), Doug Rosenbaum, and Rob Vernatchi (deep officials). A rules test will also be given to all officials.
Replay officials and replay assistants will also take part in the clinic. Football Zebras has confirmed that replay assistants will not be traveling to games this season, as the league intends to use a one-person replay booth system to limit physical interaction. It is unclear if this has any impact on potential experiments with a booth umpire or any related off-field officiating crew member that was rumored for this preseason.
In addition to officiating, the league officials will also focus on off-field highlights such as domestic violence and sexual assault prevention training, social justice, behavioral health and other topics. An update from NFL Football Operations also reported that Ret. Corp. Kyle Carpenter, a Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipient who served four years in the United States Marine Corps, will be the clinic’s guest speaker.
Most importantly, the officiating staff will be briefed on special COVID-19 protocols for the season. It has already been confirmed that officials will be wearing masks and gloves while officiating games this year, but full procedures will be fully explained to the crews. Traditionally, training camp and preseason assignments are released to the crews at this time, but it is unclear if any assignments are being released to officials at this time.