Emergencies and Unfair Acts
Emergencies -- Policy
The National Football League requires all League
personnel, including game officials, League office
employees, players, coaches, and other club employees to
use best effort to see that each game -- preseason,
regular season, and postseason -- is played to its
conclusion. The League recognizes, however, that
emergencies may arise that make a game’s completion
impossible or inadvisable. Such circumstances may
include, but are not limited to, severely inclement
weather, natural or manmade disaster, power failure, and
spectator interference. Games should be suspended,
cancelled, postponed, or terminated when circumstances
exist such that comencement or continuation of play
would pose a threat to the safety of participants or
Authority of Commissioner’s Office
1. Authority to cancel, postpone, or terminate games is
vested only in the Commissioner and the League President
(other League office representatives and referees may
suspend play temporarily; see point No. 3 under this
section and point No. 1 under "Authority of Referee"
below). The following definitions apply:
• Cancel. To cancel a game is to nullify it either
before or after it begins and to make no provision for
rescheduling it or for including its score or
other performance statistics in League records.
• Postpone. To postpone a game is (a) to defer its
starting time to a later date, or (b) to suspend it
after play has begun and to make provision to resume at
a later date with all scores and other performance
statistics up to the point of postponement added to
those achieved in the resumed portion of the game.
• Terminate. To terminate a game is to end it short of a
full 60 minutes of play, to record it officially as a
completed game, and to make no provision to resume it at
a later date. The Commissioner or League President may
terminate a game in an emergency if, in his opinion, it
is reasonable to project that its resumption (a) would
not change its ultimate result or (b) would not
adversely affect any other interteam competitive issue.
• Forfeit. The Commissioner, (except in cases of
disciplinary action; see last section on "Removing Team
from Field"), League President, and their
representatives, including referees, are not authorized
unilaterally to declare forfeits. A forfeit occurs only
when a game is not played because of the failure or
refusal of one team to participate. In that event, the
other team, if ready and willing to play, is the winner
by a score of 2-0.
2. If an emergency arises that may require cancellation,
postponement, or termination (see above), the highest
ranking representative from the Commissioner’s office
working the game in a "control" capacity will consult
with the Commissioner, League President, or game-day
duty officer designated by the League (by telephone, if
that person is not in attendance) concerning such
decision. If circumstances warrant, the League
representative should also attempt to consult with the
weather bureau and with appropriate security personnel
of the League, club, stadium, and local authorities. If
no representative from the Commissioner’s office is
working the game in a "control" capacity, the referee
will be in charge (see "Authority of Referee" below).
3. In circumstances where safety is of immediate
concern, the Commissioner’s-office representative may,
after consulting with the referee, authorize a temporary
suspension in play and, if warranted, removal of the
participants from the playing field. The representative
should be mindful of the safety of spectators, players,
game officials, nonplayer personnel in the bench areas,
and other field-level personnel such as photographers
4. If possible, the League-office representative should
consult with authorized representatives of the two
participating clubs before any decision involving
cancellation, postponement, or termination is made by
the Commissioner or League President.
5. If the Commissioner or League President decides to
cancel, postpone, or terminate a game, his
representative at the game or the game-day duty officer
will then determine the method(s) for announcing such
decision, e.g., by public-address announcement over
referee’s wireless microphone, by public-address
announcement by home club, or by communication to radio,
television, and other news media.
Authority of Referee
1. If a referee determines that an emergency warrants
immediate removal of participants from the playing field
for safety reasons, he may do so on his own authority.
If, however, circumstances allow him the time, he must
reach the highest ranking full-time League office
representative working at the game in a "control"
capacity or the game-day duty officer designated by the
League (by telephone, if that person is not in
attendance) and discuss the actual or potential
emergency with such representative or duty officer. That
representative or duty officer then will make the final
decision on removal of participants from the field or
obtain a decision from the Commissioner or League
2. If a referee removes participants from the playing
field under No. 1 above, he may order them to their
respective bench areas or to their locker rooms,
whichever is appropriate in the circumstances.
3. After appropriate consultation under No. 1 above, the
referee must advise the two participating head coaches
of the nature of the emergency and the action
contemplated (if the decision has not yet been reached)
or of the final decision.
4. The referee must not, before a decision is reached,
make an announcement on his microphone concerning the
possibility of a cancellation, postponement, or
termination unless instructed to do so by an appropriate
representative of the Commissioner’s office.
5. The referee must not discuss a forfeit with head
coaches or club personnel and must not use that term
over the referee’s microphone (see definition of forfeit
under No. 1 of "Authority of Commissioner’s Office"
6. The referee must not assess an
unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the home team for
actions of fans that cause or contribute to an
7. The referee should be mindful of the safety of not
only players and officials, but also of the spectators
and other nonparticipants.
8. If an emergency involves spectator interference (for
example, nonparticipants on the field or thrown
objects), the referee immediately should contact the
appropriate club or League representative for additional
security assistance, including, if applicable,
involvement of the League’s security representative(s)
assigned to the game.
9. The referee may order the resumption of play when he
deems conditions safe for all concerned and, if
circumstances warrant, after consultation with
appropriate representatives of the Commissioner’s
10. Under no circumstances is the referee authorized to
cancel, postpone, terminate, or declare forfeiture of a
Procedures for Starting and Resuming Games
Subject to the points of authority listed above, League
personnel and referees will be guided by the following
procedures for starting and resuming games that are
affected by emergencies.
1. If, because of an emergency, a regular-season or
postseason game is not started at its scheduled time and
cannot be played at any later time that same day, the
game nevertheless must be played on a subsequent date to
be determined by the Commissioner.
2. If an emergency threatens to occur during the playing
of a game (for example, an incoming tropical storm), the
starting time of the game will not be moved to an
earlier time unless there is clearly sufficient time to
make an orderly change.
3. All games that are suspended temporarily and resumed
on the same day, and all suspended games that are
postponed to a later date, will be resumed at the point
of suspension. On suspension, the referee will call
timeout and make a record of the following: team
possessing the ball, direction in which its offense was
headed, position of the ball on the field, down,
distance, period, time remaining in the period, and any
other pertinent information required for an orderly and
equitable resumption of play.
4. For regular-season postponements, the Commissioner
will make every effort to set the game for no later than
two days after its originally scheduled date and at the
same site. If unable to schedule at the same site, he
will select an appropriate alternative site. If it is
impossible to schedule the game within two days after
its original date, the Commissioner will attempt to
schedule it on the Tuesday of the next calendar week.
The Commissioner will keep in mind the potential for
competitive inequities if one or both of the involved
clubs has already been scheduled for a game close to the
Tuesday of that week (for example, a Thursday game).
5. For postseason postponements, the Commissioner will
make every effort to set the game as soon as possible
after its originally scheduled date and at the same
site. If unable to schedule at the same site, he will
select an appropriate alternative site.
6. Whenever postponement is attributable to negligence
by a club, the negligent club is responsible for all
home club costs and expenses, including, subject to
approval by the Commissioner, gate receipts and
television-contract income. [See Section 19.11 (C) of
the NFL Constitution and Bylaws.]
7. Each home club is strictly responsible for having the
playing surface of its stadium well maintained and
suitable for NFL play.
The Commissioner has sole authority to investigate and
to take appropriate disciplinary or corrective measures
if any club action, nonparticipant interference, or
emergency occurs in an NFL game which he deems so unfair
or outside the accepted tactics encountered in
professional football that such action has a major
effect on the result of a game.
No Club Protests
The authority and measures provided for in this section
(UNFAIR ACTS) do not constitute a protest machinery for
NFL clubs to dispute the result of a game. The
Commissioner will conduct an investigation under this
section only to review an act or occurrence that he
deems so unfair that the result of the game in question
may be inequitable to one of the participating teams.
The Commissioner will not apply his authority under this
section when a club registers a complaint concerning
judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game
officials. Games involving such complaints will continue
to stand as completed.
Penalties for Unfair Acts
The Commissioner’s powers under this section (UNFAIR
ACTS) include the imposition of monetary fines and draft
choice forfeitures, suspension of persons involved, and,
if appropriate, the reversal of a game’s result or the
rescheduling of a game, either from the beginning or
from the point at which the extraordinary act occurred.
In the event of rescheduling a game, the Commissioner
will be guided by the procedures specified above
("Procedures for Starting and Resuming Games" under
EMERGENCIES). In all cases, the Commissioner will
conduct a full investigation, including the opportunity
for hearings, use of game videotape, and any other
procedures he deems appropriate.