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Mike Pereira: 2020 could be the most challenging season for NFL officials

Former NFL official Mike Pereira walks across the field before a game in 2019
Former NFL official Mike Pereira walks across the field before a game between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 8, 2019, in Arlington, Texas.
(Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

The NFL’s biggest rules change this season isn’t something that was added to the books.

It’s something that was eliminated.

The notion of subjecting pass interference to replay is a thing of the past, a failed one-year experiment rushed into effect after the cataclysmic reaction to the non-call involving Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC championship game at New Orleans.

The notion of throwing the red review flag on pass interference, while interesting in theory, was a disaster in practice. Officials were inconsistent with the way they upheld (almost all) or overturned calls, and players, coaches and fans hated it.

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“I can’t remember a rule that failed in the first week of preseason,” said Mike Pereira, rules analyst at Fox and former NFL director of officials. “It basically flopped in one week.”

Even with that rule gone, and with only a few minor tweaks to the rest of the rulebook, Pereira thinks this could be the most challenging season ever for officials. He spoke with The Times about what he sees on the horizon:

What are the big challenges going to be this fall?

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The officiating department and the officials have never faced what they’re facing this year when it comes to preparation for the season. There’s a ton of new officials and zero time to prepare, other than on Zoom. So you’re going to have guys on the field that have never officiated at this level before. It’s not like college. It’s a lot quicker and a lot tougher. So that first deer-in-the-headlight look you’re going to get happens in Week One instead of Week One of the preseason.

Besides scrubbing the exhibition games, what other COVID-related steps has the league taken with officials?

They’re going to regionalize the officials and do everything they can to keep them from traveling on airplanes. So you’re going to see people like the Los Angeles — the Rams and Chargers are going to be serviced by a group of officials who are within reasonable driving distance, so from California, Nevada, Arizona. So you’re not going to have the crew concept because you’re going to be shifting around all the time.

Is it undesirable to see the same team more than once or twice in a season?

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My old philosophy which was consistent with [longtime official and NFL executive] Jerry Seeman’s philosophy, is you don’t work a team more than once in a season. If you do have to work them twice, then you work them once at home, and once away. That’s gone.

Playing fantasy football this season requires making some contingency plans in case the NFL season takes an unexpected turn amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s the rationale behind not working a team more than twice?

You don’t want to get overly familiar with the coaches and the players and the fans. It makes more sense that teams get a different group of officials every week. And there was also a rule that you didn’t work the same team within a six-week period. That’s gone too because of COVID. And these new guys are going to run around wearing face masks and maybe pushing electronic whistles, because they have that option. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s going to be difficult.

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Will it change anything that fans won’t be at the game, so they won’t be right on top of the officials.

No, I don’t think so at all. Any official that is gone as long as it takes to get in the NFL has learned how to tune out fans. There will be the same nervousness. I would say probably greater because of the new guys without having reps. That nervousness comes from trying to make the right call and knowing that you’re under constant scrutiny from the officiating department.

Can you put into perspective just how difficult it’s going to be for new officials to step right into the job, without clinics or training-camp experience, and start making calls in regular-season games?

You’re missing a step; that’s the key. When I came in, I remember going into Week One of the preseason in 1996. And it was at Green Bay, playing the Patriots. And I went into that game nervous, because I hadn’t done this before at this level. I remember finishing the first game and saying to my linesman on my side of the field, Earnie Frantz: “I feel good about this. I think I can do this.” He said, “Rook, this is the first game of the preseason. This is like a scrimmage.” And then the difference between Week Four of the preseason and the first week of the regular season was, like, “Oh, my word.”


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