In so many aspects of the business of professional football, the Steelers are consistent. From how they prefer to construct their roster, to how they go about hiring and supporting their coaches, to how they negotiate contracts. Now, add to that how they view the notion of expanding instant replay.
The NFL Owners Meeting begins on Sunday in Phoenix, and as the primary venue for debating and possibly implementing rules changes, it will be dominated by the idea of expanding instant replay. Especially in light of how the 2018 NFC Championship Game ended.
But the Steelers contingent – President Art Rooney II, General Manager Kevin Colbert, and Coach Mike Tomlin – again will come down on the side that's opposed to changes to the replay system.
"I would say that probably the biggest, most talked about potential rules change revolves around replay, expanding replay, and it seems like that happens almost every year," said Rooney. "But this year there seems to be a little more attention being paid to it. I think our position in general on replay is we're not really that excited to have replay expanded, and we'll approach it with that in mind. We have a lot that is already reviewable in the game, and we're not that excited about continually adding to that list."
And if the Steelers opinion on expanding replay has been consistent, so has the reason for why they hold that opinion. For Rooney, it comes down to a consideration for the fans, particularly the paying customers inside stadiums.
"First of all, I would not want to see the length of the game be expanded," said Rooney. "I think we need to continually try to go in the other direction, if anything try to shorten the game a little bit. That's No. 1. And No. 2, it really is the pace of the game, and particularly for the people in the stadium, having to sit through all kinds of reviews and stoppages I think is something we have to keep in mind.
"One other thing I'll add to that is replay, at the end of the day, is another human being interpreting the play. While it can be helpful in a lot of cases, when you start talking about judgment calls – pass interference in particular – you're still putting another human being in a spot of having to make that decision. You're just never going to get it perfect, no matter how many people are looking at it. That's another hesitation I have to expanding it further."
In past years, the anti-expansion side has prevailed, but because of what happened in the NFC Championship Game, the tide on this issue may be turning.
"I haven't had a lot of conversations (with other owners)," said Rooney about how his peers might be viewing the issue. "I would say my sense is that there is an interest in expanding replay maybe more than I would like, so I do think some of these proposals are going to get serious attention. There's more interest in looking at how we make sure that plays are getting corrected than in other years. My hope is that whatever we do ends up being a fairly limited change, whatever it is."
Among the things to be considered are whether to make pass interference a reviewable issue, and whether that should be limited to overturning a call made on the field.
"The one proposal is that offensive and defensive pass interference would be reviewable," said Rooney, "but what I'm not clear on, when we say it's reviewable, whether that includes actually having a play that was not called as a foul be changed (by replay) to there is a foul. That would be the question, whether that play would be reviewable, and that is part of the discussion. I did have a conversation with Coach Tomlin and I know that was discussed by the Competition Committee, but I don't know whether they came out with a final recommendation on that. I think we'll find that out at the meeting. It really comes down to whether in allowing review of those plays, does it also allow for a foul to be called where nothing was called on the field?"
Rooney said the Steelers are opposed to changing the kickoff any more than it's already been changed for safety reasons, opposed to having an eighth official on the field but are willing to listen to the idea of an eighth official as a "sky judge," and are open-minded about changing the overtime rule for playoff games to make sure both teams get a chance with the football even if the first team scores a touchdown.
"There's discussion about having the eighth official on the field as well as potentially having the eighth official being the sky judge," said Rooney. "I don't think I'm very excited about having another official on the field. If anything, I think the question would be: do we add an eighth official to be the sky judge? And the consideration there, for me, would be does that take some of the pressure off the league office to have a lot of plays reviewed by the league office, as opposed to plays actually being reviewed in the stadium? I think there is some merit to the idea to have the crew at the stadium really have control of the officiating of the game, and so that part of it is probably worth some consideration.
"I think (proposed change to the overtime rule) is worth some consideration. We've got some statistics that most of the time, both teams do get a chance to have the ball, but that one merits some consideration."