While the NFL rightfully boasts about a player vaccination rate above 93%, the other folks on the field for games — the officials — are nearly at 100%.
According to the league, the 121 officials are 99% vaccinated, which should make their jobs a bit easier, says former NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira.
“If you are going to travel as much as these people are traveling — I am pro vaccine, I was vaccinated in January — when talking about your own safety, I am a believer in science, not in conspiracy,” says Pereira, now a football analyst for Fox Sports. "I would love to see all of them vaccinated. Last year they went through so many testing protocols at the house, the stadium and hotels and it made for difficult assigning, and regional (assigning) of games.
“I always talk to officials who knew I was kind of a health nut. You have to take care of yourself — so many of them still have kids at home, it is imperative they stay healthy."
The league's officiating office has seen quite a turnover since Pereira left after the 2009 season, and that is the case again this year. Al Riveron has retired, replaced by former referee Walt Anderson and former coach Perry Fewell. It's a different sort of dynamic from when Pereira and then Dean Blandino, who followed Pereira to Fox, were overseeing everything.
Pereira believes the tougher adjustment will be Fewell's.
“I think Perry probably faces a bigger challenge than Walt. I only say it from the standpoint Perry is a coach, he doesn’t understand officiating; I don’t know a coach that truly does,” Pereira says. "What the league has done is say to Perry, 'You oversee the department and you work with the coaches and clubs, the people you are most familiar with.′
“Walt was head of officiating for the Big 12, has all the experience he needs. Walt is a workaholic, he does more prep with videos — he knows what needs to be done.”
But Pereira is concerned that there's been so much turnover at the top of NFL officiating since he left.
“Look at Art McNally (23 years) and Jerry Seaman (11 seasons), and then I was in office for 12 years,” Pereira notes. “And then they went through this rapid progression of Carl Johnson and then Dean Blandino, and then had Al Riveron, and that didn’t last. That is not good for either the teams or coaches, and maybe most importantly, the officials. You would like to have some consistency there. That is difficult for everybody.”
Pro football is among the most difficult sports to officiate with 22 players on the field moving at a much faster pace than any referee or linesman or umpire or judge. Big men, too.
And each year there are rules changes or points of emphasis that require adjustments by everyone, whether it's a quarterback throwing the ball, a defender trying to pick it off, a kicker or punter — or an official.
This season, Pereira highlights one point of emphasis and one procedural change as being high priority.
“This point of emphasis on taunting impresses me,” he says. "I like it, and I do think it started to get out of hand, with so much in-your-face stuff not being called consistently. It led to the type of football game I don’t like to see, with pushing and shoving and too many games out of control. Taunting creates that.
"I think the league office did a really good job of communicating with the players. Before I sent anything to the club when I was there, the infraction would have to be obvious. They took a different approach here and they showed them — the players, teams, coaches — the iffy ones, and took the philosophy of don’t put the official in this position (of calling it.) Turn away and do your celebration away from the opponent.
“This is one I think they will stay with throughout the season.”
The NFL also is allowing the replay official to become verbally involved in some decisions. Pereira doesn't think that move is going far enough, and he preferred adding an eighth official to handle the job.
“I did and didn’t like the idea of the use of the replay official in making him the video assistant who could chime in on plays and get corrections made in real time,” Pereira says. "It’s a version of the sky judge, but they don’t want to call it that — maybe because the AAF used it and they didn’t want to copy terminology.
"At least they took a step in that direction, but they have restricted the types of plays they can get involved in. Only objective plays (involving) the line, ground and plane. If it falls in those parameters you can get involved. I would have liked to have seen it involved in more player safety plays ... that are big and hard to officiate. Like the shoulder to chest tackle that sometimes is called as a penalty and can’t be reviewed in this case.
"When replay was brought back in 1999 it was all about the ground, the planes and the lines. Never about judgment. It’s morphed ... into more judgment areas. I imagine they will look at it, to be successful, what did it do to overall game length? It might shorten the game length, if we have less replays. I don’t think anyone will complain about that if they get the ruling right."
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