Integrity of the Game

Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players.

It’s a great day for football. 

The field is in pristine condition. Screaming fans pack stadiums around the league and millions more tune in around the country. Like clockwork, the players appear, the national anthem is sung and the game begins — precisely on time.

Before a game even starts, Game Operations staff, league representatives and the highly skilled officiating crew begin enforcing rules designed to create an environment that is fair for both teams, exciting and entertaining for the fans, and protects the players. Each sideline and locker room is set up with the same technology, equipment and provisions to ensure that no team has an unfair competitive advantage.

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

After kickoff, fans watch game action — including touchdowns and disputed calls — on high-tech scoreboards. Coaches call in the next play to their quarterbacks or defensive captains as the action unfolds.

Yes, it’s a great day for football. What seems like the beginning of the action is actually the result of hours, weeks and months of careful coordination and preparation by a legion of dedicated professionals who work to preserve America’s favorite sport. The NFL pays meticulous attention to every detail that goes into putting on a professional football game — crafting the rules, training the officials, implementing the technology and more — to make sure that games are fair and entertaining.

The league does this by leading through consensus, but acting decisively when it’s in the best interest of the game.

It starts at the top, with the Executive Committee and the commissioner.

The Executive Committee includes one representative — an owner or top officer — from each of the league’s 32 clubs. Any change in game rules, league policy or club ownership or other modification to the game must be approved by at least three-fourths of the committee. Without consensus, nothing will pass.

As the league’s chief executive, the commissioner has a great deal of influence. But he still must answer to the owners, who by executive committee vote have the power to remove him.

NFL Football Operations strives to create a culture of clarity, consistency and credibility to proactively meet the demands of the game.

To create the consensus to get things done, the commissioner’s office works with more than two dozen committees that comprehensively research and examine possible rule or policy changes before making recommendations.

The Competition Committee, for example, leads the rule-making process, which takes input not only from its Coaches Subcommittee, but also from numerous other sources. And in a reflection of the league’s emphasis on player protection, about a dozen committees and subcommittees, many including outside medical experts, study injury-prevention issues in depth.

When it comes to the system for developing players and playing the game, NFL Football Operations runs the show. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of Football Operations, and his team work to institute a culture of clarity, consistency and credibility to develop the future of the game, to honor its past while preparing for its future and to strengthen the NFL brand for players, coaches, clubs and fans. 

DECIDING GAMES ON THE FIELD

The league goes to great lengths to provide a consistent, fair, and TV- and fan-friendly product. It’s imperative that the games are decided on the field, between the two teams. The NFL Football Operations “bible” is the Game Operations Manual — nearly 200 pages of procedures and policy for regular season games alone. It is critical that the Game Operations Manual is incredibly precise and thorough.

The Game Operations Manual is one of the league’s three comprehensive policy manuals for member clubs — the other two are for administrative and business operations, and media and public relations — and, by necessity, it is often military-like in its precision and astonishing in its thoroughness.

The league’s Game Operations Department uses the manual to govern the conduct of both clubs, to ensure they protect players, coaches and football staff and provide the conditions for a fair and fan-friendly contest. Clubs may face fines and other penalties for noncompliance.

The manual represents years of learning from overseeing and producing more than 15,000 NFL games — the situations, big and small, that have affected, or may affect, the on-field product and may result in one team's having an unfair advantage over another.

“When we are writing policy, we think strategically and predict how teams could potentially interpret our policies. We have to be 8 steps ahead in order to be prepared for all of the unintended consequences while ensuring that our policies are both practical and clearly defined,” said Stephanie Durante, VP of NFL Game Operations.

The league edits the manual annually to try to prepare for any scenario that could affect a game. To protect players, the manual dictates the number and type of medical personnel required for each game. To ensure competitive equity, it guarantees that teams have equal access to communication tools, football technologies, facilities, etc. And to ensure equity across the league, the manual specifies the exact pylons, sideline chain sets and locations of game and play clocks.

The league conducts a review of club complaints and issues from throughout the year. If there is a legitimate competitive concern, they will consider updating the policy or writing new language.

Each club designates one person to oversee its gameday functions and serve as the point of contact for the Game Operations department. That person is responsible for addressing any field, stadium or operational issue that arises and coordinating needed follow-up with the league.

Game Operations sends a Football Operations Representative to every game. They are responsible for checking everything from field conditions and communications equipment to game security and each coach’s booth (which must have two TV monitors for each team) before game time. During the game, they serve as a communication liaison between the game site and the Game Day Operations Center (GDOC) in New York. The GDOC monitors all games and fields calls to address any concerns with the game sites, televising networks or anything else related to game operations. This can include issues as diverse as club-controlled sound, field-level access and weather conditions that may cause a delay in a game. If GDOC spots an issue, they will alert the on-site Football Operations Representative to address the issue in real time.

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

The league also makes sure that the players take the field with approved equipment and in the designated uniform the teams have agreed to wear. A uniform inspector from Football Operations attends each game to ensure compliance — not only for appearance, but also for player protection, including mandatory proper use of thigh and knee pads, shoulder pads, approved face masks and clear visors.

Each team must designate a staff member to be its contact with uniform inspectors on policies governing uniforms and on-field apparel.

The NFL’s exclusive marketing agreements with approved brands mean that only those brand marks can be visible on the field. Players are not prohibited from wearing any other approved equipment they prefer, but nonpartner logos must be covered or removed.

THE LAST RESORT: Team FINES

The NFL takes infractions of Game Operations rules seriously — so much so that clubs risk fines as high as $500,000 for violations “affecting the competitive aspects of the game.” Some violations, such as late arrival for kickoff, can result in yardage penalties, and failure to comply with a uniform policy can result in a player’s temporary removal from the game.

The league takes violations seriously because it takes its responsibilities seriously. Good governance is an essential component in producing a fair and entertaining game.

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