Improving officiating to be a focus

During a conference call on Wednesday, March 19, in advance of the NFL Owners' Meetings, Competition Committee Co-Chairman Rich McKay said, "You're going to see a real emphasis on on-field officiating and trying to be the best that we can be, and trying to be sure there is the necessary (structure in place)."

Following a 2013 season in which the quality of officiating, or lack thereof, too often dominated the conversation following a weekend's slate of games, the league will gather in Orlando and consider several proposals designed to improve it, and all of the proposals on the docket involve instant replay.

As Steelers President Art Rooney II put it before the Steelers' contingent departed for the meetings, "I think there will be a good bit of discussion about instant replay and officiating."

One of the specific proposals to be presented to ownership is to allow personal foul penalties to be reviewable. Another, suggested by the New England Patriots, would allow coaches to challenge any call. There is one that would expand replay to include the type of change-of-possession plays such as the one in the Steelers-Packers game on the blocked field goal. The Patriots also want the league to add six cameras to every game to ensure a good angle for every replay. And there also is a proposal to allow the referee to communicate directly with an NFL official in New York, with that most likely being Dean Blandino, the NFL Vice President of Officiating, before ruling on a particular replay challenge.

Rooney said he believes some of the proposals have a chance to be adopted, but that he doubts the approval will come this year at these particular meetings.

"The whole question of should we make a change in terms of the referee actually being the one who makes the decision (on a replay challenge), I think there is going to be a lot of discussion about that and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a change in that, probably not this year, but at some point. But I also think everybody feels like we can do better than what we have now in terms of the time it takes."

In the media coverage of these meetings, a good bit of attention can be expected to be directed at the instant replay proposals, with not as much directed to a different report – the subject of that one being the fan experience inside stadiums at games. And yet, as Rooney alluded to in offering his opinion on the time it takes to adjudicate replay challenges, those things are linked.

"I don't know that I favor any of the proposals on the table today," said Rooney. "There is no objection to the one about allowing the referee to consult with the league office during the replay. Frankly, I think that happens anyway. So, there is no objection to that. In terms of, let's say anything more ambitious than that, I think it's going to be studied over the next year."

During the final weekend of the 2013 regular season, a playoff spot for the Steelers hinged on the Chiefs defeating the Chargers, and on a game-deciding field goal that Kansas City's Ryan Succop sent wide of the uprights, San Diego should have been penalized for an illegal alignment along the line of scrimmage. The Chargers eventually won the game in overtime and claimed the sixth seed in the AFC Playoffs instead of the Steelers.

But even though his team was kept out of the playoffs in part by an officiating gaffe, Rooney said back then that he opposed more replays.

"That to me is one of the main things, we don't want a longer game. We don't want it to take longer for replay," said Rooney. "The question of having it go to the league office, (time) would be one of my questions about that, and I think that's one of the reasons they didn't want to rush into making a decision this year. Again, our goal is to get it right, not necessarily to have more replays or more delays in the game."

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