Owners of the 32 NFL teams began to gather Tuesday at a Key Biscayne resort for a one-day meeting scheduled for Wednesday. The competition committee plans to seek the owners’ approval Wednesday of a resolution that would authorize it to modify the replay-for-interference rule. With the change, all pass interference calls would fall under the coaches’ challenge system.
The system ratified by owners in March at the annual league meeting in Phoenix puts such reviews of interference rulings under the challenge system for all but the final two minutes of each half. Initiating a replay review of a pass interference call must be done by the replay booth in those final two minutes.
In March, the thinking was that coaches should not be able to challenge pass interference calls or non-calls in the final two minutes because that would enable them to challenge a non-call on a Hail Mary pass, with its jumble of players jostling for end zone positioning for what amounts to a jump ball.
But since then, the concern has become the number of stoppages that could occur from booth-initiated replay reviews of pass interference.
“We’ve clearly made a step in the right direction,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said Tuesday. “I would say that the issue here is that as you go through it, one thing you do not want to do is be a game that has multiple stops in the last two minutes.”
The concerns were voiced by teams to Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating.
“I think we were all comfortable when we left Phoenix on the procedures,” McKay said. "And one of the concerns about leaving it in the coaches’ challenge [system] was the Hail Mary, the last play, that idea of: How do we not have a challenge on every one of those? So that’s when it really reverted to, ‘Let’s go to the replay assistant.’ I think as Al has gone around, I think the concern is: How many stoppages will we end up with in the last two minutes?”
The coaches’ challenge system limits the number of replay reviews — and stoppages to the game — because each coach has only two challenges per game, then is granted a third if both of those challenges are successful.
"The one nice thing about the challenge system is, it has a substantiality meter to it,” McKay said. “And that meter is based on the coach. It’s based on his thought that, ‘This is a very important play.’ Whereas in the replay assistant … there is no materiality factor. It’s just: If there’s something that looks like it’s reviewable, they’re supposed to stop the game regardless of whether it’s important or not important.”
No change will be made Wednesday. The competition committee wants the authority from the owners to make the change before the season if it comes to believe, after further study, that is what should be done.
“I think we’re trying to figure out how to deal with the Hail Marys because no, we don’t want those challenged,” New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee, said Tuesday.
McKay said the competition committee likely would exclude Hail Mary plays from being challenged by coaches for pass interference.
“If we go down this path and it ends up being a challenge system, you’ll exclude and exempt that play in some way,” he said. “You’ve got to write it. You’ve got to figure it out and make sure everybody agrees to it. But then it would just become a play that’s not reviewable. It doesn’t mean pass interference can’t be called. … But it does mean it wouldn’t be in the replay system.”
That, too, would present its complications: how to define, in a rule, what’s a Hail Mary and what isn’t.
“I actually don’t think it’s that hard,” McKay said. “It’s gonna be: From what yard line was it thrown? Were there multiple receivers? How much time’s left on the clock? There’s a few elements that we all know go into the Hail Mary. But you want to get the input from the coaches. … You don’t want to take away a real play. If they’re at the 15-yard line and they’re running what is a real diagrammed play, you wouldn’t then want to say that play is not subject to review. We’ll have plenty of discussion. I don’t think it’s that hard to define.”
The NFL, by making interference reviewable, is attempting to avoid of repeat of the officiating gaffe that sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl rather than the New Orleans Saints. But things rarely are simple and straightforward when it comes to NFL rule-making, and now the accompanying task is to avoid the sort of confusion that surrounded the new helmet-hitting rule and roughing-the-passer calls last season.
“I think whenever you have a new rule like this, there’s always some concern about how it’s gonna be implemented,” Mara said. “I think we’ll be fine.”
Owners also are to give consideration Wednesday to the proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs, tabled in March, to guarantee each team at least one possession in overtime. The Chiefs made the proposal after losing the AFC championship game on a touchdown by the New England Patriots on the opening possession of overtime.
The Chiefs’ proposal appears unlikely to generate the 24 votes among the 32 franchises necessary for ratification, owners and other high-ranking team officials said.
“I think there’s some support,” said Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, a member of the competition committee. “But I don’t think there’s enough for it to get voted in.”