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NFL to consider expansion of instant replay

The NFL is considering expanding instant replay to cover "down by contact" plays that previously were not included in reviews.

NEW YORK (March 16, 2005) -- The NFL is considering expanding instant replay to cover "down by contact" plays that previously were not included in reviews.

Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, chairman of the league's competition committee, said the change will be considered next week in Maui at the annual league meetings.

In the past, replay has not applied to plays ruled dead because an official has blown a whistle calling the runner down.

"Those plays have been misunderstood," he said. "What we're considering would allow for a recovery if replay shows the ball came out before the play was down - even if the whistle has blown."

This will be one of the few years that instant replay itself will not be discussed. It was extended last year for five years although a proposal to put it in permanently was not approved.

"This is why we wanted to have it in for a length of time," McKay said during a conference call to preview the agenda for the meetings. "It gives us time to tweak some things we have in there without having to discuss the entire process."

Next week's meeting will include a variety of business items, but few definitive moves.

The owners will discuss the slow pace of talks to discuss the current labor agreement, which runs out in 2008 as well as the stalled negotiations on the prime-time television package in the new TV contract, which runs out after next season.

CBS and Fox already have renewed their AFC and NFC contracts for a total of $8 billion over six years.

But the Sunday and Monday night packages remain under discussion with ABC, the current Monday night rights holder, and its subsidiary ESPN balking at the NFL's asking price. At some point, other networks could move into the prime-time discussion.

The league also could award the 2010 Super Bowl to New York contingent on a new stadium being built for the Jets on the West Side of Manhattan.

The main interest, however, is in on-field rules changes.

One emphasis will be on safety.

McKay noted that injuries were up last year and said he expects the committee to recommend additional guidelines that could lead to more unnecessary roughness calls. The guidelines could address chop blocks -- although those would still be allowed inside the "tackle box," the area around the line of scrimmage; blind-side hits on screen passes and hits on quarterbacks, punters and kickers otherwise out of the play.

McKay said a number of injuries came on non-contact plays last year and noted there is some concern that lighter shoes might be playing a role.

"We're not sure why injuries were up last year but they were," he said. "It might be a one-year thing, but in our meetings with players and their union, they have made it clear that they are concerned."

The committee also will ask officials to continue the emphasis on illegal contact that began last season.

Illegal contact calls increased from 79 in 2003 to 191, although defensive pass interference calls went down from 238 to 202.

"That's a lot of fouls. We'd like that number to come down," McKay said. "There was a similar spike in '94 when we had an emphasis and it came down. We hope it does again -- by conduct."

The committee is also considering a proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to change to the college rule on pass interference.

That mandates a maximum of 15 yards on defensive interference or a spot call if the penalty is less than 15 yards. In the NFL, the ball is spotted where the interference takes place or at the 1-yard-line if it is in the end zone.

The Chiefs' proposal includes one slight difference from the college rule: on a flagrant foul, the ball would still be spotted where the penalty took place. That would presumably eliminate players from fouling when they know they are beaten and taking a 15-yard penalty rather than one of 30 or 40 yards or more.

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