Upon further review, the NFL still seems unwilling or unable to expand its use of replay review to allow for the correction of egregious mistakes like the missed defensive pass interference call that sparked a firestorm and essentially sent the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl LIII instead of the New Orleans Saints.
In somewhat typical fashion for a body that historically moves slowly in making significant rule alterations outside of the realm of player safety, the NFL competition committee is poised to put its weight behind an incremental change to replay rules at next week’s four-day league annual meeting in Phoenix. A proposal to make pass interference subject to replay review on a one-year experimental basis has been put forth, but alas, the change would not include non-calls like the one in the Superdome that inspired two months worth of replay debate to begin with. They would not be reviewable and thus have no remedy.
In other words, the NFL might be finally ready to bring judgment calls under the umbrella of replay review in certain cases — something the league has long resisted — just not for plays where a non-judgment is every bit as impactful and potentially game-changing. Apparently that’s a Pandora’s Box the league does not want to open. And how much support exists among teams and owners for even the one-year half-measure replay expansion remains to be seen, with any new rule requiring the yes votes of 24 franchises to pass.
In avoiding for now the notion of over-turning non-calls like in the Saints-Rams game by replay review, the NFL’s rules-making Competition Committee is continuing its aversion to seeing penalties called upstairs via replay, rather than on the field by the officiating crew. There is the long-held belief that the game can’t move too closely to being officiated by instant replay without losing some of the human element that on-field refereeing ads.
While the consensus within the league seems to be running along the lines of “We know we’ve got to do something to show what happened to the Saints isn’t acceptable,’’ those hoping for bold action on the replay rules change front by the NFL next week in Phoenix are likely to be disappointed. Already the idea of adding an eighth official to serve as a “Sky Judge’’ in the booth to fix erroneous calls or non-calls right when they unfold appears to be dead in the water with no chance of being instituted by the league.
On a conference all Friday morning to preview next week’s annual meeting, Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said the “Sky Judge’’ proposal that seemed to be generating some momentum at the recent NFL Scouting Combine has received “no support from any member of the Committee.’’ Which is a curious declaration given that Saints head coach Sean Payton is a member of the Committee, and he’s on something of a public crusade to enact rules that would ensure what happened to his team can’t happen again.
The new Alliance of American Football league has implemented the use of an upstairs “Sky Judge’’ in its inaugural season, but the NFL has apparently found the idea unwieldy, citing reasons such as its uncertainty of locating enough qualified video booth officials, and no agreement on when a “Sky Judge’’ could intervene in a game and which penalties or non-calls could or should be reviewed?
In addition to the proposal that would allow reviews on pass interference calls, the Competition Committee also has put forth a separate one-year-only proposal in favor of adding roughing the passer, illegal hits on defenseless players and pass interference to the list of plays that could be challenged, reviewed and changed if the visual evidence supports it. The player safety element of those calls likely give that proposal a higher degree of being approved by owners, and would at least serve in one case to make the Competition Committee look pro-active on the replay expansion front.
But again, the increased use of replay would only apply when a penalty already has been called on the field by the officials, which means there’s still the potential of erroneous calls to go uncorrected. Mistakes that are vividly highlighted by television and witnessed by millions of football fans via HD screens.
Owners overall will have six replay-related proposals submitted by different NFL teams to discuss and weigh in Phoenix — most of which would go far further than the Competition Committee’s suggestions in terms of changing the current replay review system. Washington is proposing to expand replay to make every play in a game reviewable, an idea long put forth and supported by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Sensible though it might be, it again has no chance of being adopted.
Another team-proposed rule change that also appears to be going nowhere: Kansas City’s effort to alter the overtime rules to mandate each team gets a possession, even if the team with the ball first in overtime scores what is now a game-ending touchdown. Which of course is exactly how New England beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in January’s AFC Championship Game.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, essentially sounded the death knell for the Chiefs’ OT proposal, citing data the Competition Committee has generated that indicate both teams have possessed the ball in overtime 80 percent of the time in games since 2001.
“You’ve got to play ball, play defense,’’ said Vincent, a former NFL cornerback, no doubt in this case speaking for the consensus opinion among committee members.