The NFL has canceled the preseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many wonder how the players will get ready for the regular season, there has to be some concern as to how the NFL’s officials will react to no preseason games.
The last time NFL officials didn’t have a preseason was during the 2012 labor dispute. The NFL locked out the officials and after a disastrous preseason and three weeks of the regular season, the NFL and the officials reached an agreement, and the officials suddenly worked with very little notice.
How will a lack of preseason impact the officials in 2020?
First of all, it is always good to knock off the rust and preseason games help do just that.
Second, it gives crews the chance to meld together as a unit both on a off the field. Which official is the joker? Who needs a wide berth as they put their game face on? Who needs to be built up before the game? What does the rookie official need from the rest of the crew to have a successful first season? Will there even be regular crews this year? With the potential of little travel, more regional assignments, and officials having to self-isolate in the event of exposure, there may not be crews this year. On the pro level, it is vital that officials form a crew and operate as a unit for 17 weeks. It will be understandable, but a shame, if there can’t be crews in the upcoming pandemic season.
Third, while there have been few rule changes in the off-season, the officials use the preseason to test out rule changes, new points of emphasis, and potential new mechanics on the field.
Fourth, the NFL won’t be able to evaluate the Officiating Development Program officials in the preseason and see who is ready to be added to the regular staff. And the NFL won’t be able to audition potential new referees.
Fifth, NFL officials won’t be able to go to training camps to give rule talks in person and work scrimmages. That is another nice addition to preseason games. It gives officials the opportunity to talk to coaches and players informally, ODP officials get some more grass time. and players and coaches can see that officials are actual human beings.
Sixth and finally, the NFL is preparing a contingency plan for five-person crews in case COVID-19 depletes the officiating ranks. Many of these officials haven’t worked a five-person game since JV or varsity high school. They need a preseason to try out the mechanics.
This will be a season unlike any other (if it happens at all), and NFL officials will have to be flexible and do the best they can to start the regular season without their usual tune-up activities.
We wish them well as they get their game faces on for Week 1.