Still no "eye in the sky," and the spot/choose alternative for overtime and the fourth-and-15 alternative for onside kicks both were deemed to be a tad too gimmicky. The chop-block rule was tabled because it maybe was geared too much toward protecting the big guys to the detriment of the little guys.
But instead of "eye in the sky," there now is a provision in place where the game's replay official can provide information to the on-field referee to help get the call correct without the need for a challenge; and a bone was thrown to the kicking team to help increase its odds of recovering an onside kick. Fans will notice more players wearing single-digit numbers on their jerseys starting this season, and it's likely everybody is going to be happy about the abolition of overtime in preseason games.
The NFL Owners Meetings in March ended with the 17-game regular season becoming official, and the Owners April session ended with the approval of seven new rules that go into effect for the 2021 season.
"Probably the most significant one was the one that didn't pass, which was the chop-block rule that we had some concerns about," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "Our biggest concern with that was while you understand the reason for the rule because chop blocks can lead to lower body injuries, the concern we had was you're maybe trading one set of problems for another. This (rule) could have cornerbacks, smaller guys out on the field trying to defend themselves against 300-pound guards and tackles pulling around the end and trying to take on those blocks. If you're able to cut (the big guys) that gives (the little guys) a bit of a fighting chance against the bigger guy. It's really a question of big people against little people, and how do the little people defend themselves in situations in the open field. We just thought that rule needed to be studied a little more, and so that was tabled.
"We were in favor of eliminating overtime in preseason, so that is a good development. The most significant one (that passed) was Playing Rule Proposal No. 2, which is an effort to give at least a little more opportunity to recover an onside kick. This rule limits the number of guys the receiving team can put up in the box to nine. It's only passed for one year, and so we'll see if it makes any difference. But with some of the recent rules changes that had been made, the percentage of onside kicks recovered by the kicking team has really dropped. This is an effort to provide a little better opportunity for the kicking team to recover."
The Baltimore Ravens again sponsored the rule that has come to be known as the "eye in the sky," which called for the addition of an eighth official to every crew. That official would be "positioned somewhere other than the playing field, with full communication to on-field officials and access to a television monitor."
The Steelers have been against this each time it has been presented to ownership for a vote.
"Some of the comments we had were along the lines of 'just too much replay,' and I personally think we should do one or the other," said Rooney. "If we're going to bring the extra official in and make him the replay official in the stadium, I wouldn't have a problem with that, but then let's eliminate the replay in New York. I don't think we need both. It's really more of an administration question, in terms of where you're going to do the replays. Before we moved replay to Central Command (in New York), it was done in stadiums and the replay official was part of the officiating crew. I at least think there's some merit to that. With technology and all the camera angles available to us, it's really a question of what's the best way to do it, what's the best location for people to do the replays from. I don't think we need to have that many sets of eyes and that many decision-makers in the mix."
Instead, now there will be this, according to the new rule: "The replay official and designated members of the officiating department may consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, or advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present, and/or to address game administration issues, including, but not limited to: penalty enforcement; the proper down; spot of a foul; the game clock; possession; completed or intercepted pass; touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line; location of the football or a player in relation to the boundary line, the line of scrimmage, the line to gain, or the goal line; or down by contact (when a player is not ruled down by contact on the field)."
But the new rule will not preclude a coach or Replay Official from initiating a challenge or review that's currently permitted under Rule 15, Section 1.
Sounds a lot like "eye in the sky," doesn't it?
"I'm not going to tell you I didn't have some concerns about it," said Rooney. "It's really a question of: where do you do the replays from, and who really has the ability to overturn a call. This rule is designed to provide more information to the on-field referee who still has the final authority to make a call unless it goes to an official replay. These things are happening without it going to an official challenge. It can get a little confusing, and we'll see how it works. I think we need to look harder at the whole replay situation and make sure we don't have too many voices in the referee's ear."
Even though there seem to be proposals every year directed at correcting officiating mistakes that have been made, Rooney said he doesn't see it as an indictment of the job the league's on-field officials are doing.
"No. 1, I think our officials do a great job considering the speed of the game," said Rooney. "We've made this a much harder game to officiate than ever before, with all of the different rules changes and the safety rules we have now, so they don't have an easy job and we all recognize that. If we can provide help through replay or through technology, I think we need to be open to look at how best we do that. With the number of cameras and the high-definition cameras nowadays, the clarity is much better than it used to be. Making sure we're getting calls right is the No. 1 consideration. Every year there are proposals designed to make sure we're getting the calls right, but at the end of the day I do think there is such a thing as too many replays and too many people in the referee's ear. There is a balance there we're trying to get to."
Related: NFL owners adopt new playing rules