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NFL officials experiment with wireless in-game communication



Ron Winter wears wireless official-to-official communication gear in a preseason game.

Ron Winter wears wireless official-to-official communication gear in a preseason game.

You may have noticed some officials wearing rock-star like microphones and ear pieces during some preseason games.  The NFL has confirmed that it is having its officials experiment with wireless official-to-official communication gear during selected games this August.  Vice president of football communications, Michael Signora, says, “We have consistently used the preseason to test different ideas that might improve our game, including methods to improve communications between the game officials.”  Football Zebras does not know the brand name of the communications gear being tested.

NCAA officials have worn this type of gear during regular season games in the Southeastern Conference (SEC).  Official-to-official communication gear has also been tested by other major college conferences during spring games.  Major international soccer league officials already use this type of technology.

We don’t know if all seven officials are patched in at once, if they can change channels to dial in different officials at different times, or if all officiating crews will experiment with the equipment this NFL preseason.

I would think that having seven officials all patched in at once might cause some confusion.  I could envision the deep officials (back judge, field judge, side judge) all patched in together, and the “front four” (referee, umpire, head linesman, line judge) patched together.  The mics would be a great tool for the deep officials to confirm the number of players on defense; likewise to have the front four confirm the count on offense.  It would also be a great tool for the deep wings to talk things over (“We need to talk, I have an un-catchable pass.”) or to have the line judge alert the referee (“It’s coming back, I have illegal formation”). 

I don’t think we’ll see this in regular season games this year, but don’t be surprised to see the officials sporting more wires, microphones, ear pieces, battery packs and receivers in the coming years.

Ben Austro contributed to this report.


Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"