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Sideline assistants reduced in NFL’s preliminary covid-19 protocols

The NFL addressed a few preliminary coronavirus protocols regarding certain key sideline personnel that are managed by the officiating department



The NFL addressed a few preliminary coronavirus protocols regarding certain key sideline personnel that are managed by the officiating department under the umbrella term “gameday assistants.” This includes clock operators and replay communicators and technicians. All GDAs are local employees and do not travel to other sites during the regular season.

In a memo sent to gameday assistants last week, the officiating department gave little information on their pandemic plan:

Covid-19 protocols for GDAs are not yet finalized. HR will be sending an invitation to a mandatory meeting on GDA covid-19 protocols [within] the next few weeks. They will be covering pre-certification guidelines, testing requirements, pre-game and game day protocols, as well as answering any questions you may have. We will circulate final protocols when they become available.

Some of the preliminary covid-19 protocols include eliminating the kicking ball coordinator and the field replay communicator positions from the sideline this season. The ball handlers for each team will now be responsible for their own K ball supply, with the home team getting the three even-numbered balls of the six shipped to the stadium direct from the manufacturer. The field replay coordinator is there to relay information from the replay booth to the field, particularly after turnovers and scores and when there are already discussions on the O2O (official-to-official) headsets. Now, communication will be exclusively through the O2O.

Additionally, the old replay hoods which have been used as base stations or foul-weather alternatives will now be used for conducting all replays, rather than bringing the tablets on the field. This eliminates a face-to-face between the referee and the replay technician. Usually two technicians are positioned at either 20-yard line with a third technician at the hood. This year, only one technician will be on the sideline, working at the hood. This means a replay review might be conducted over 80 yards from the dead-ball spot, instead of a maximum of 30 yards. Not a big deal in the long run (no pun intended), but it will add a delay to getting the ball ready for play again.

There are backups to every gameday assistant position, and the K-ball coordinators and replay communicators will be cross-trained as backup clock operators and the C2P cutoff operators (the person who mutes the coach-to-player communication device when the play clock reaches 15 or the ball is snapped).

Initial protocols also include instructions for gameday assistants to arrive earlier and with their league-issued face coverings already on. Replay equipment, clock controls, and phones are to be sanitized on arrival, and pregame movement is to be kept minimal. The pregame conference with the officiating crews 90 minutes prior to kickoff will be handled remotely to limit the number of personnel in the officials’ locker room.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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