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6 officiating things I’m watching in the 2020 NFL season

As the 2020 season gets underway, here are six things on my mind regarding the officials.



It’s here. I never thought it would get here. Despite the 2020 covid-19 pandemic, we will start the 2020 NFL season Thursday. 

Here is what I’m looking for as I zebra-watch this season.

1. What will the officials do to protect themselves?

Back judge Terrence Miles [Carolina Panthers photo]

I have already stated my concerns about how officials can properly call the game and still follow safety guidelines. Will the officials have to wear masks during the entire game? Will they use electronic whistles? If so, will the whistles work in rain, sweat, heat, sleet and snow? 

Also, officiating mechanics require officials to get up close and personal in digging to the bottom of a fumble scrum or breaking up a disagreement. Will they still do that or will the players have to police themselves?

2. How will assignments and crews work?

In early June, the NFL released the 2020 crews. A few weeks later, they re-worked the crews into a more regionalized approach. This will, theoretically, cut down on flying trips where covid-19 exposure is heightened. 

It will also, theoretically, have officials working games for a team or teams more than twice in a season.

We don’t know the regional crews — in fact, the regional crews may not stay together for an entire season. Seven NFL referees hail from California or Arizona. They will have to travel east to work some games. I would guess an official from the west would make an eastern swing, working maybe four games in two weeks in the eastern time zone, and then travel back home to the west coast. 

The league has been very strict about dissemination of information, and multiple officiating sources have stated there is a sense that the officiating department is unsure of what to do. I predict the further we go into the season, the crews and schedules will become even more of a seat-of-the-pants process, due to pandemic concerns.

3. What will happen if there is a covid-19 outbreak among the officials?

I would count it a miracle if zero officials came down with covid-19 and/or had to self isolate after exposure to the virus. The NFL has a contingency plan for crews of five to work games, if the virus spreads through the zebra herd or if two officials receive a positive result from their pregame test.

Let’s hope the league doesn’t have to take such drastic action and we can have a full compliment of crews each game.

4. Will ODP officials get the call?

[Ben Austro/Football Zebras]

Five onfield and two replay officials have already opted out of the 2020 season. 

The NFL originally hired six officials in April. The NFL then hired five more to replace the opt-outs. Replay officials were replaced from the replay assistants pool.

There are over 40 officials training to become pro officials and being evaluated by the NFL in the Officiating Development Program, or ODP. These officials work college games after their preseason schedule with the NFL. But, but several college conferences postponing football until the spring, the ODP officials may be available.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, ODP officials are not part of the officials’ union and they are not called up during  a season to replace injured officials. 

But, that could change this year. This has already been worked out between the NFL Referees Association and NFL management. We are not privy to those agreements, but don’t be surprised if an ODP official gets the call this year if there is a coronavirus surge.

5. New white hat

Land Clark is the new referee for the 2020 season, replacing the retired Walt Anderson, who took a position with the officiating office. 

Clark worked as a deep wing in his first two NFL seasons. He has strong credentials as a Pac-12 referee. He’ll be a good one. Here is a video of his officiating audition from 2019.

6. New management flow chart in the NFL officiating office

This is the first year the officiating office will be run by a triumvirate of senior vice presidents: Perry Fewell, Walt Anderson and Al Riveron.  Riveron will run centralized replay on game days. Anderson will concentrate on professional development, mechanics and mentoring new officials. Fewell will act as the liason between the officials and coaches. 

This is the first time three people have run the officiating office with divided duties. It is a near-impossible job and I hope the three have a successful season and all three help advance officiating.

Super Bowl LV crew prediction

Or, as it usually turns out, the Football Zebras kiss of death. Once every other year I hit on one of the seven officials, but that doesn’t deter me from making a guess.

So, here is my Super Bowl crew prediction:

Yrs2019 crewCollegeOccupation
R 35 John Hussey 19   Idaho State sales representative
U 92 Bryan Neale 7 Smith Indiana sales consultant
DJ 8 Dana McKenzie 13 Corrente Toledo claims adjuster
LJ 45 Jeff Seeman 19 Cheffers Minnesota brokerage sales
FJ 116 Mike Weatherford 19 Novak Oklahoma State oil and gas business
SJ 21 Jeff Lamberth 19 Wrolstad Texas A&M attorney
BJ 111 Terrence Miles 13 Novak Arizona State quality control manager

And now, as the late, great Red Cashion used to say after every coin toss, “Gentlemen, let’s play football!”

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?"