NFL Rumors: League Planning For Potential Changes To Officiating Crews In Case Of Coronavirus Outbreak

NFL referees in the Super Bowl.
Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

The NFL is preparing a number of contingency plans for its upcoming season in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, and that reportedly includes some potentially different-looking officiating crews.

As Pro Football Talk reported, the league has been making plans for how to handle a potential outbreak among officials, as there is currently a tight crew with little room to spare. The report noted the league currently has 119 officials, which are enough to fill 17 separate crews, as well as “swing officials” who would serve as substitutes.

The report noted the league would be prepared to use members of a spare crew to fill vacancies during bye weeks, and could even call on an official to officiate two games in one week, likely pulling a member of the Thursday Night Football crew for a game either on Sunday or Monday of the same week.

If the coronavirus were to take out several officials during a week when no teams were on a bye, the report noted that the league could play some games with less than the normal crew — as few as five officials. The report added that some high schools have been forced to work with five-member crews in a pinch, sometimes even four, and the NFL has some past experience playing games with a crew of that size, using five-person crews from 1947 through 1964.

The NFL is facing a number of questions about how it would respond to a potential outbreak of the coronavirus, which has the potential to force several members of a given team out and into quarantine. As USA Today reported, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is calling on the league to give more clarity on how it would handle such issues.

DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, said that some team doctors have expressed reservations about opening training camps in July, as cases of the virus are rising sharply in a number of NFL cities, including Houston and Phoenix. The doctors ultimately gave the go-ahead, but Smith took note of the reservations.

“They provided their medical reasons, some of the things we agreed with, some of the things we may not agree to,” Smith said. “But overall, they gave their medical opinion that it was safe to open training camp. And that’s where we are.”

The report noted that NFL players are still waiting for some key details about the new season, including frequency of testing and how they can opt out if they do not feel safe to play.