Members of the NFL’s competition committee are scheduled to discuss the possible expansion of instant replay as an officiating tool, potentially to include reviews of pass interference and other judgment calls by officials, when they meet Monday in Indianapolis.
No decisions are expected to be made as the committee conducts its annual meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. The competition committee probably will not decide what, if anything, it will propose to team owners regarding modifications to the instant replay system until shortly before the annual league meeting in late March in Phoenix, and there is likely to be lively debate among owners at that meeting before they determine whether to ratify replay changes.
Two hours of the competition committee’s meeting Monday are scheduled to be devoted to replay and the potential expansion of it. The deliberations are being closely watched by those around the league after the furor over the missed pass interference call late in regulation in the NFC championship game that helped the Los Angeles Rams rather than the New Orleans Saints reach the Super Bowl.
“Everything’s on the table until the membership (owners) and coaches talk us out of it,” said one person familiar with the league’s inner workings.
Another person close to the deliberations said it was “too early” in the process to know what the competition committee might propose to the owners on replay. A third person with knowledge of the discussions said the give-and-take on prospective instant replay modifications is likely to continue into the March meeting when it becomes clear how far owners are willing to go on modifications.
“I just can’t tell until we get into the meeting and start the discussion,” that person said. “I think it will be tough to get 24 votes to go to a system where you can challenge anything, including noncalls.”
Any rule change would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 teams and, if ratified, would take effect next season.
The competition committee long has held the view that judgment calls such as pass interference should not be subject to replay review. But the uproar over the officiating debacle in the NFC championship game perhaps could change that. Saints coach Sean Payton is a member of the committee and could lobby for changes.
If the committee remains reluctant to make pass interference and other judgment calls reviewable over the course of an entire game, one potential alternative would be to make such calls reviewable only in a game’s late stages.
Other possibilities might include adding a video official, stationed in the press box, to each officiating crew or allowing a team a very limited number of replay challenges on judgment calls per game, with a possible yardage penalty attached to a failed replay challenge on a judgment call.
The potential addition of an on-site replay official to each officiating crew would avoid having judgment calls being, in effect, reofficiated by the members of the NFL’s officiating department stationed in front of monitors at the league’s offices in New York.
The competition committee so far has received few rule-change proposals submitted by individual teams, according to those close to the process. In the past, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has proposed making all penalties, including those not called, subject to replay review under the coaches’ challenge system. It’s not clear whether the Patriots will make that proposal this year.
The deliberations over adding a replay official to each crew also could come up Tuesday when the competition committee is scheduled to discuss officiating and officiating mechanics. Part of that discussion will be about the possibility of adding an on-field official to each crew or potentially repositioning officials on the field.
The competition committee has separate meetings scheduled for Wednesday with representatives of general managers, coaches and the NFL Players Association.
Other topics to be covered by the committee this week include hits on quarterbacks; the lowering-the-helmet rule that went into effect last season; the changes to the kickoff that were made last year; prospective changes to punt plays; offensive and defensive pass interference; and on-field celebrations, with a possible ban coming on players leaving the sideline to join those celebrations.
But the officiating gaffe in New Orleans has been the talk of the sport for the past month. In some ways, it overshadowed the Patriots’ triumph over the Rams in the Super Bowl. For the NFL, it provided an unsavory finish to a mostly enthralling 2018 season that included high scoring and improving TV ratings. That officiating blunder remains in focus now as the league begins the process of figuring out how it will attempt to address it in the rule book.