By Jerry Wein
NFL game officials can opt out of the 2020 season in exchange for $30,000 and a guarantee that their jobs will be protected in 2021, according to a preliminary agreement announced between the league and the NFL Referees Association amid the coronavirus pandemic.
If approved, officials will have until Thursday to notify the NFL of a decision to opt out.
According to NFLRA executive director Scott Green, the average NFL official is 52 years old.
“There is nothing more important than the health and safety of our members,” Green said in a statement. “Although there will undoubtedly be some risk for our officials, we are pleased to have finalized a plan with the league that provides additional benefits and protections during this unprecedented season.”
The NFL’s roster of officials currently stands at 121, enough to give each official at least one week off during the season. The league is pursuing two new hires this week and has a number of protocols in place to cover for officials who either opt out or fall ill during the season. Those options include using officials who were scheduled to be off and doubling up with some members of Thursday night or Monday night crews. As a last resort, officials have been refining mechanics for six- or five-person crews; the standard NFL crew has seven on-field officials.
According to the NFLRA, the option is open to all officials who have concerns about the coronavirus. In addition to the $30,000 stipend and 2021 job guarantee, the agreement also includes the following stipulations:
• There will be COVID-19 testing twice per game week. For a Sunday game, officials will be tested on Thursday at home and on Saturday at the site of the game.
• Any official who tests positive for COVID-19 during the season will receive salary, medical and other benefits the NFL normally gives when an official suffers an injury on the job.
• Any official who tests positive or shows symptoms of illness at a game site will receive medical expenses, lodging and travel expenses home from the NFL.
Officials have been preparing for the season in a virtual training format. The NFL has canceled their annual training camp visits and changed the way it assembles crews and makes game assignments in order to minimize travel time.