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COVID-19 forces a rushed offseason for NFL officials

COVID-19 leaves the officiating off-season up in the air.



The NFL officiating staff usually has a smooth and orderly start to its season. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic will throw monkey wrenches into that smooth and orderly start.

No easing into the season

The officiating “new year” starts on May 15. That’s when the officials meet for a mini-clinic in New York City. At that time, the officials go through the new season orientation, take physical fitness tests, get briefed on rule changes, get their crew assignments, get new uniforms issued, and go through regular human resources house-keeping items.

Through June, officials get together across the country to study NFL rules. Crews meet either in person or via teleconference to go over rules, mechanics, and goals for the upcoming season. 

Once July rolls around, officials attend training camps to give rules presentations and work scrimmages. Then, all officials meet for the formal clinic, including a proctored rules test.

And before you know it, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game is here, and we’re underway.

But, we don’t know if there will be social distancing guidelines on May 15. Odds are, the pandemic will still be going strong which will put the mini-clinic in jeopardy. 

Every official needs that pre-season launch sequence to properly get ready for Week 1. This year, the officials will have to be flexible. 

How is the hiring process going?

When a NFL official is a finalist, they attend an in-person meeting with several officiating executives. Hopefully Al Riveron, senior vice president for officiating, was able to do the finalist interviews before the social distancing guidelines. If not, Riveron and company will either have have to work around the in-person interview process, most likely via a video conference. 

A league-hired psychologist interviews each candidate to determine personality and ability to handle stress. In the past, the psychologist interview happened with finalists, but those interviews may take place while the candidate is in the Officiating Development Program (ODP).

Hopefully, all preliminaries are out of the way and the only thing left to do is make job offers.

I’m sure the NFL is working hard to have a full staff hired by May 15. 

New leadership structure

Former referee Walt Anderson has been hired by the NFL as a senior vice president (SVP) in the officiating office. His focus will be on training all officials, with emphasis on first-through-third-year officials.

On the organization chart, Anderson and Riveron have the same rank of SVP. Both will report to Troy Vincent, executive vice president of football operations. Our original report on the position indicated that this individual was to report to Riveron, but there must have been some negotiation over that element.

This pandemic is delaying and complicating this new management structure. Anderson’s relocation/telecommuting arrangements are up in the air. Nothing beats an in-person meeting so all managers can get to know each other’s work habits and temperament. Frankly, it is too dangerous to travel to the New York office to meet in person.

I’m sure Anderson is ready to begin his new duties, but with COVID-19 making the officials shelter in place, it is unknown when he’ll be able to start training officials. Anderson’s first year on the job would be a feeling-out process no matter what, but the delayed start will present the former referee with new challenges.

Every NFL official and every officiating executive is successful in the professional world, and part of that success is adjusting to different challenges thrown in their way. 

Everyone will have to be flexible and ready to change plans at a moment’s notice.

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?"