At the annual NFL owners meeting that takes place every year before the draft, team officials talk about everything from strategy, to trades, to rule changes. This year the competition committee voted on 13 different proposed rule changes, passing only two. The first rule accepted protects defensive players, making it illegal to roll up on the sides of their legs. Rolling up on the back of player’s legs last year was illegal, now it has been expanded to the sides to keep them safe. The other rule the NFL Competition Committee voted for was changes to the review process, which will take effect in the 2014 season.
The Director of Officiating, Dean Blandino, will now be involved in replays from the league’s offices in New York City, along with a group of other officials. When a coach challenges a call on the field, officials in New York will immediately start to look at the play and find the best angles. As St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher explained, it will allow the refs on the field to communicate directly with New York through their wireless headsets. By the time the ref jogs across the field and gets under the hood of the review booth, the officials in New York will have already reviewed the angles, and have the best ones picked out for them to look at. The idea is to make the process of reviewing calls quicker.
The head ref on the field will also wear a headset throughout the game that can connect to the official in the review booth at the stadium, as well as the officials in New York; opposed to only wearing the headset while at the review booth. Once a challenge flag is thrown by a coach, or during the last two minutes (where all reviews come from the booth) the New York officials start the process and communicate with the ref on the field through this headset, sometimes starting the conversation before he gets to the booth. In the end, the ref on the field still has the final say, but the hope is that New York officials can point the ref in the right direction and guide them to the correct call. The NFL Competition Committee voted 9-0 for the changes to the review rule, and it will be in effect for the start of the 2014 season.
Not everyone around the league like the rule change though. A month ago, when this rule was first proposed, no one thought it was going to pass; how could you believe that the ref under the hood was making the calls and not being told what to do by New York? Mike Brown, the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals is one of those defectors. Brown argues that the review process already takes too long and has extended game times, now this will add to that. The owner feels that the parity of a ref’s decisions are what makes the NFL the way it is; not every call is going to be right, but it evens out over time. Some plays are so close that even after replay they will not get the calls right, these extra inputs will only add to the time of the decisions.
There is sure to be backlash from the fans during the games too, as they never like when the refs reverse a call that hurts the home team. Now, with the New York officials giving their input, the fans can blame ‘Big Brother’ for the decisions, saying it is just New York pushing their ways onto the game. Baltimore Ravens coach, Jim Harbaugh, disagrees. He believes that the rule change will make the process quicker and result in more correct calls. Because to the NFL’s Competition Committee voted unanimously for the review rule changes, it acknowledges that the league wants the game to move quicker, and hopefully this will get the 2014 season moving in that direction.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich