The deliberations are set to begin in February at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis during meetings between Vincent, other league representatives and members of the rulemaking competition committee.
“I’ll provide all the data when the competition committee comes in in February: This is where we are from a people standpoint, a process standpoint,” Vincent said on the final day of a two-day league meeting at a Dallas-area resort. “Here’s how we fare. … That is something that we do each and every year. But my role is to evaluate, inform the committee, inform the commissioner: This is the state of officiating. And we’ll come up with the best outcome, what’s best for the game.”
The NFL’s officiating has been under particularly intense scrutiny since the missed pass interference call in last season’s NFC championship game in January in New Orleans that sent the Los Angeles Rams rather than the Saints to the Super Bowl. That led the owners to ratify a rule in March, on a one-year trial basis, making interference calls and non-calls subject to replay review.
But coaches, players and fans have been critical of the manner in which Riveron has made interference-related replay rulings from the NFL’s officiating department in New York. And the replay-for-interference system has been only part of the officiating quandary.
There have been other issues, as when the officials cost the New England Patriots a touchdown perhaps twice during the same sequence in Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, first by mistakenly whistling a play dead on a potential return of a fumble recovery by cornerback Stephon Gilmore and then by erroneously ruling wide receiver N’Keal Harry out of bounds on a run after a catch.
Riveron became the NFL’s officiating czar when his predecessor, Dean Blandino, left the league to become a rules analyst at Fox. Riveron annoyed some within the league with his handling of catch rulings via replay a few years ago, leading to a modification of the NFL’s catch rule. His implementation of the replay-for-interference system this season has been similarly puzzling to many coaches and teams.
Vincent did not directly answer a question Wednesday about Riveron’s job status, but said all leaders in the officiating hierarchy will be evaluated.
“I think we start with just: What did we do well? What did we not do well?” Vincent said. “Again, I’m a leader of the group. I have to even evaluate myself. Do we have the right people in place? … Is it the right process? All those things have to be evaluated, starting with myself.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the standard expected of officiating has been raised as technology has improved, giving fans access to TV replays that are sharper and more revealing.
“Consistency is the number one thing we’re always trying to achieve,” Goodell said. “And we, every year, have engaged in changes that have been designed to make us more consistent and better. Obviously the standard keeps getting higher. ... I think what people see nowadays with technology is much greater than it was even five years ago, and clearly 10 or 15. I think our officials do an outstanding job. But we always seek to improve, and we will engage in that and have engaged in that.”
Last offseason, coaches pushed for the use of a “sky judge,” a replay official who would be added to each officiating crew and would be stationed in front of a monitor in the press box, authorized to correct clear officiating mistakes by the on-field crew. That concept could be revisited this offseason, Vincent said.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “The sky judge was a topic of discussion at the combine last year.”
One of the problems the league had with the sky judge proposal, though, was the prospect of finding enough qualified officials to fill the new jobs. The officiating talent already has been stretched thin by the retirements in recent years of several prominent referees (the referee is the head of the on-field officiating crew). The league had to elevate other officials to replace those departed referees, and the trickle-down effect left officiating crews less experienced.
After taking the position early in the season that it was the coaches’ responsibility to adjust to how the interference-related rulings were being made via replay, the NFL now seems to accept that the system is not working as intended and will consider possible changes before the owners vote on renewal.
The new rule was approved, amid the furor over the officiating gaffe in the NFC title game, over the reservations of the competition committee about making a judgment call such as pass interference subject to review.
“It will always be a point of discussion any time you bring a subjective penalty into review,” Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said Wednesday. “It’s no longer like it was before when we were looking at a line and whether two feet were in or not in, whether the ball crossed the line or did not cross the line. This is a subjective review of whether there was clear and obvious, significant hindrance of a receiver.”
According to McKay, there have been 87 interference-related replay reviews this season, and 20 on which the on-field call was reversed. That’s a reversal rate of 23 percent that has risen in recent weeks but remains below an overall replay reversal rate that usually hovers around 27 percent.
McKay said the competition committee will review each interference-related replay ruling made this season as part of its offseason deliberations and will try to determine if the system can be improved. He declined to predict whether the owners will renew the system when they vote in March.
“Let’s wait and see,” McKay said. “There’s no question there’s been angst. I’ve felt the angst. … But it’s a new rule, a big change, something we haven’t done before. So I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome could be.”