The NFL’s competition committee is proposing an expanded use of instant replay as an officiating tool, though not to the extent that others within the league are seeking.
The committee completed and announced a proposal Thursday that would make pass interference, roughing the passer and illegal hits on defenseless players subject to replay review but only when a penalty already has been called on the field.
The committee stopped short of proposing to make actions not flagged — such as the missed pass interference penalty in the NFC championship game that sent the Los Angeles Rams, rather than the New Orleans Saints, to the Super Bowl — reviewable.
The committee remained reluctant, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations, to have penalties assessed via instant replay when they are not called on the field.
“Most are uncomfortable with adding flags,” one of those people said, “but I think most would support [the league’s officiating department in] New York reviewing pass interference and certain personal fouls provided a flag has been thrown.”
The idea of adding a video official, or “sky judge,” to each officiating crew, previously suggested by the league office, did not appear to have widespread support among committee members and was not proposed by the panel.
“Still working on it but I do not expect the sky judge to be a part of it,” the person said.
Any proposed rule change must be ratified by 24 of the 32 NFL teams and, if approved, would take effect next season. Owners are scheduled to meet Sunday through Wednesday at a Phoenix resort for the annual league meeting, with general managers and coaches also in attendance.
The competition committee is powerful, but while its proposals and recommendations to the owners are influential, they are not binding. The owners can accept or reject a proposal or enact a rule change not proposed or recommended by the committee. In this case, owners will consider six replay-related proposals submitted by individual teams, in addition to the replay proposal by the committee.
Committee members met in Florida this week to complete their work before the Phoenix meeting.
The committee has had a long-standing opposition to making judgment calls, such as pass interference, subject to replay review, not wanting to have the game, in effect, officiated a second time by instant replay. The committee’s willingness to make interference and some personal fouls reviewable represents a change in sentiment.
However, this proposal would not have addressed the debacle in New Orleans, in which officials failed to penalize a blatant interference infraction and an illegal hit on a late-game play by the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman.
Several coaches have said they want to see pass interference made reviewable. The Washington Redskins have submitted a proposal that would make all plays in a game subject to replay review under the current coaches’ challenge system. That proposal has been made in the past by New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.
Other proposals by teams would make all personal fouls reviewable.
The committee’s proposal also would make scoring plays, turnovers , extra points and two-point conversions negated by a penalty subject to automatic reviews. Scoring plays and turnovers are now automatically reviewed.
The idea of adding a sky judge who would be situated in front of a monitor in the press box to each officiating crew emerged during the recent NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The sky judge would be empowered to overturn obvious mistakes by officials.
That system was said to have the support of the coaches’ subcommittee of the competition committee. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said at the combine that the league and the competition committee would study the details of such a system, including which penalties could be reviewed by the video official and at which points in a game the video official could intervene. Another issue was locating enough qualified video officials, Vincent said.
It’s not clear whether the owners will consider implementing such a system without the support of the competition committee. There probably will be much debate among the owners in Phoenix over replay, and a lack of consensus could result in the issue being set aside for resolution at their next meeting in May.
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