It was not clear if any other modifications also are under consideration. But the people with knowledge of the deliberations said they do not believe that major changes involving the use of new technology or significant tweaks to the current instant replay system will be made for the playoffs.
The league declined to comment Tuesday and has made no announcement on the matter at this point. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a radio interview late last week that possible changes for the postseason were being examined but did not provide specifics. Three weekends of games remain in the NFL’s regular season before the playoffs arrive.
Current rules allow Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, and other members of the league’s officiating department to be in contact with the on-field officials to assist during replay reviews.
That communication during games could be expanded by the measures under consideration. With only one game being played at a time during the postseason, the league office can give its full attention to that game and Blandino and the NFL officiating department could be in contact with the referee on administrative matters such as the clock and what down it is.
It is unlikely that the new provision would allow the league office to have input on judgment calls made by the on-field officials during games. The league’s competition committee previously has resisted making judgment calls subject to replay reviews, and that is a line that the sport’s leaders seem hesitant to cross without lengthy and careful consideration.
Making rule changes or modifications to officiating procedures during a season is rare but Goodell is empowered to do so.
It has been a season filled with officiating controversies. Those have included the NFL admitting that the on-field officials missed a penalty against the Seahawks for illegally batting the football out of the end zone that cost the Detroit Lions a late chance to win a game at Seattle. The officials allowed 18 seconds to run off the game clock following a kickoff late in a game in San Diego but the Pittsburgh Steelers were not affected and managed to win that game with a touchdown as time expired.
Goodell said at an owners’ meeting this month in Dallas that “no stone will be left unturned” during the upcoming offseason as the league examines possible ways to improve officiating. Goodell mentioned the possibilities of simplifying and clarifying certain rules, implementing new technology and changing the ways in which officials are trained and assigned to crews. He said the league also will continue to seek to make some officials full-time employees.
Owners of the teams last offseason rejected a series of significant changes to the replay system proposed by individual teams. Those proposals, which included making all calls (and non-calls) subject to potential replay review, likely will be reexamined this offseason.
Goodell also said at the owners’ meeting he has asked a group of former and current executives and former players to make recommendations to the competition committee about possible improvements to the catch rule. The competition committee modified the catch rule but did not overhaul it last offseason.
Goodell also said this month that he thinks the officials do an extraordinary job, and Blandino has stressed that the percentage of calls being made correctly by officials this season is comparable to the ratios in other seasons.