In order to prevent the spread of covid-19 through the air, the NFL and the NCAA wants its officials to wear a mask as much as possible. This means the officials have to modify their whistle technique.
So, this year many officials are using electronic whistles (you can see the whistle tied to umpire Ramon George’s belt in the photo above). These whistles allow the official to stay masked and not eject their breath from the traditional whistle.
In short, the electronic whistle is too quiet. The whistle either lets out a warbling tone or an electronic screech. From what I’ve noticed at the NCAA level, when the covering official sounds their electronic whistle, the secondary official also gives a backup toot on their electronic whistle to add to the volume.
The electronic whistles are also directional. So the official has to aim the whistle at the players. So, it might be difficult to aim the the whistle at the players while signalling.
Also, when an official reaches the NFL or NCAA, their whistle technique is rote muscle memory. They are having to adjust their whistle mechanics for the first time in 20 to 40 years!
Last week, the NCAA sent a memo to their officials allowing them to pull their masks down to sound their traditional whistle at the end a play. Inventors have also created a pouch that fits over a Fox 40 whistle to catch droplets.
It appears that the NFL is giving its officials the option to blow the traditional whistle, as I’ve been hearing several Fox 40 whistles in pro games.
The officials knew that it would be an adjustment to officiate games this year. It is good that the NCAA and NFL are working with science and its officials to allow officials to use their mask and give them the option to use a traditional whistle if they wish.