The deal is done, and the clock is ticking. By Thursday, the league’s game officials will decide whether to work this season, or not.
If they work, they’ll be traveling (by car, as often as possible) every weekend to game sites. They’ll have no preseason, no training camp visits, no real way to sharpen the saw before being thrown into the fray in Week One.
Bad calls will be inevitable. Media, fans, and those with money riding on the games won’t be inclined to understand if/when (when) obvious errors that can’t be fixed by replay review occur. Unless the league office has arranged for a wink-nod system of assisting the on-field officials (especially if games must proceed with crews as small as five), the stress will be unprecedented — apart from COVID-19 concerns.
Throw in the fact that most if not all officials have other jobs, each and every one of them must be tempted to take the non-refundable $30,000 payment and take a year off. They have other jobs, of course, because the NFL allows them to have other jobs. Because it’s far cheaper to have part-time officials than to have full-time officials. But if the NFL had full-time officials, the opt-out rate likely would be a lot lower than it may be.
It could be that some officials realize, despite assurances that their positions will be preserved in 2021, those who opt out without a clear medical reason for doing so may be viewed as persona non grata once they return. Or, perhaps more accurately, that those who stay will enjoy most favored nation status, better positioning them for promotions and other positive treatment post-pandemic.
Either way, the answers will come in the next three days. And there’s a chance the NFL will be scrambling to find more part-time employees to work the games, like the NFL did in 2012 during the officiating lockout.