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Coronavirus Pandemic

Truncated offseason means less time to consider, vote on rule changes

COVID-19 is impacting the ability for the NFL to change the rules.



Updated 4/1/20 to reflect owners approving expanded playoffs

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to run it’s dangerous course, it appears that there will be less, if any, traditional offseason time.

Already, the in-person league meetings have been canceled. The owners could meet met via teleconference sometime this week, to vote on and approved expanding the playoffs by adding two wild-card teams.

The league tentatively plans on an in-person business meeting May 19 and 20 — if it is safe to do so. During that time, the league could vote on rules changes, including a vote on whether to make permanent, revise or discard the pass interference replay challenge rule and a vote on the Patriots drain-the-clock rule. But, May 19 may be pushing it for an in-person meeting, as some states will be finishing up their public health shelter-in-place guidelines, while some states may still be shut down.

So, don’t be surprised if the May 19-20 meetings are held on the telephone. According to a report by Judy Battista, it is unlikely that teams will be able to hold Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and there a question on whether or not training camps will open on time.

As it relates to the game officials, this delay will put pressure on Al Riveron, senior vice president of officiating. Once the owners change the rules, it is up to Riveron to come up with proper interpretations and give guidance and education to officials on how to properly enforce the rule. Under normal circumstances, Riveron has around six weeks to put those materials together to present to the officials when they meet at the mini-clinic when the officiating new year begins May 15. From there, Riveron could further tweak the rule interpretations in time for training camp visits in July.

For Riveron, those precious six weeks in the spring are gone. 

With a shortened officiating offseason, I don’t think the NFL owners will vote to change rules wholesale. The owners need to address the pass interference replay rule for sure. Everything else is up in the air — just like everything else is up in the air today. I don’t think it is a good idea to drastically change rules with so short of a time to implement those changes.

COVID-19 impacts all of us, including the NFL and its officials. We will be addressing how this pandemic is interrupting the officiating offseason in upcoming articles.

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?"