After a decade of discussion, the National Football League voted today to let television instant replays help decide officials' close calls.
By a vote of 23-4-1 at the league's winter meetings, the instant replay was passed for the 1986 season. It will be used in every game played this season, from preseason to the Super Bowl. The Giants, Chiefs, Broncos and Cardinals voted against instant replay; the Steelers abstained.
The decision is in effect for this season only; teams will have to vote on replays again next year.
"We thought we should use what the public is seeing," said Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm, chairman of the NFL competition committee.
This makes the NFL the first of the four major professional sports leagues to allow replays to change officials' decisions on the field.
But the NFL's replay rule is limited. The league's press box observer, or "replay official," will have two monitors on which to watch and replay action. He will be allowed to change only questionable calls involving possession plays -- the sidelines, goal lines and end lines -- and easily detectable infractions (such as more than 11 men on the field).
Twenty-six fouls, including clipping, interference, offsides and holding, cannot be called or changed by the replay official. "It has to be totally conclusive," Schramm said. "If there is any question at all, the call stands."
Schramm said he expects an average of less than one call reversal per game. During an experiment in eight preseason games in 1985, 23 plays were reviewed by the replay official, but only one call was changed.
Several other changes were adopted today:
*A player who wears equipment, including headbands, that contain a personal or commercial message other than the team logo faces suspension from that game.
*A tight end will receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if he chop blocks a defensive end who is engaged in blocking a pass-setting offensive tackle.
*The receiving team will not be allowed to block below the waist on scrimmage kicks through the entire down.
*A rule provision was deleted that called for a safety when a defender who intercepted a pass outside his five-yard line was carried into the end zone by his momentum. Now, the ball will be spotted at the point of the interception.
*A fumble out of bounds that is not recovered by the opposing team but that advances the ball will return to the fumbling team at the spot of the fumble, not at the spot it went out of bounds. For fumbles that travel out of the end zone, the opposing team will receive the ball at the spot of the fumble.
*Kicking shoes must be standard football shoes that are not modified.
*On a muffed catch, only the player who gives a fair-catch signal will be given the chance to make the catch free from interference.
In other action, the NFL approved the experimental use of helmet radios for communication on offense for the 1986 preseason.