An idea whose time has come a bit late to be considered for the Super Bowl Jan. 20 could snowball in the offseason if there is a major officiating controversy in this year's big game.
An upper-level figure with one NFL club, who asked not to be identified, has proposed that instant television replays be used when there is "severe doubt" in the minds of game officials about what has happened on a critical play.
He conceded that the experiment would not be feasible for regular-season games, because of lesser camera coverage, but suggests its use for the Super Bowl, as "the biggest game in the world."
Replays would be used only in trying to determine if a ball was caught in or out of bounds and whether the receiver had possession, whether the plane of the goal line was crossed, whether the ball carrier fumbled the ball and where, and on change-of-possession plays.
The TV replays would not be consulted on plays involving penalties, but "only as a tool; another view of plays of great magnitude."
The club official making the proposal asserted that, except for the pass-interference call against Bennie Barnes of the Dallas Cowboys last year -- later to be adjudged a bad call -- disputes in Super Bowls have been over fumbles, whether a player crossed a boundary before catching the ball, and/or whether he had possession.
He speculated that the hardest decision would likely come in using replays to rule on fumbles, because the referee's whistle, in relation to when a fumble occurred, might not be heard on the tape because of crowd noise.
The proposal provides for two extra officials on the field who would do nothing but look at plays at the boundaries -- the goal line, the back line of the end zone, and the sidelines.
One official would be on each sideline, ahead of the offensive team and anticipating where a pass might be thrown.
The club official acknowledged that if the procedure was used for a Super Bowl, there almost certainly would be a demand that it also be used for other playoff games in the future.
The NFL has a loaded public relations problem. If a serious controversy develops in this year's Super Bowl, the fans figure to ask why more innovative preparations were not made.
The NFL is basically opposed to using instant replays, claiming they're sometimes inconclusive and too time-consuming during a game. A spokesman pointed out that there will be close calls and high emotions in a game of such importance, and acknowledged that there is no fail-safe insurance against controversies.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has also frequently said replays for all NFL games would be too costly, as high as $40 million for the first year because it would require purchase of necessary equipment.
League owners unanimously voted down a proposal for instant replays after a study of their use in 1978 pre-season games.
CBS will operate more television cameras than ever this year, as will NFL Films, which records every Super Bowl game for an annual documentary, but these additions are strictly for the home viewer -- there is no intention of consulting them during the game.