The NFL will form its officiating crews this season with an eye toward geography amid the coronavirus pandemic, in hopes that individual officials can drive to as many games as possible, a source said Friday.
Based on logistics and the uneven spread of officials around the country, some flights will be unavoidable, but both the league and the NFL Referees Association wanted to minimize long trips.
Negotiations between the sides on other changes for officials remain ongoing. ESPN previously reported that officials won’t make their usual visits to training camps, and they are being outfitted with masks and electronic whistles.
Other details to emerge include:
Rules that typically prohibit officials from working more than two games of any one team — and putting at least six weeks between those games — will be relaxed. Combined with the new crew formations, it’s possible teams could see the same officials for multiple home games. Normally, the NFL wants to avoid repeats for competitive fairness.
The sides have not yet agreed on an opt-out arrangement, but replacement protocols have been developed for officials who eventually either opt out or fall ill. Those options include tapping officials who otherwise would be on their bye. Crews assigned to Thursday night and Monday night games would be on standby for possible double coverage on Sunday.
Officiating leadership has been tasked with refining mechanics for smaller crews of six or even five officials. Standard NFL officiating crews have seven on-field members, with a replay official and a replay assistant in the booth. A preseason plan to experiment using the replay official as a modified sky judge has been scrapped, but the league is expected to study the possibility during regular-season games.