NFL owners revamp video replay for officiating

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PHOENIX — One day after approving the Oakland Raiders' move to Las Vegas, NFL owners got busy passing several rules changes and adopting resolutions they believe will speed the game and enhance player safety.

Most notable Tuesday was the change in handling officiating of video replays. Referees will now watch replays on the field using Surface tablets, eliminating "going under the hood" to watch on television monitors.

League officiating chief Dean Blandino and his staff in New York will make the final decisions on those calls, with input from the referee, who in the past was the ultimate arbiter after consulting with league headquarters.

"And I think that's important to remember, we're not taking the referee out of the equation," Blandino has said. "The referee will still be involved, the referee will still give input, but will no longer have the final say."

Also at the league meetings owners extended bringing touchbacks out to the 25-yard line for another year; eliminating "leapers" trying to block field goals or extra points; added protections for defenseless receivers running their routes; and made permanent the rule disqualifying a player who is penalized twice in a game for specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

A proposal to cut overtime in the regular season from 15 minutes to 10 was tabled for more study and likely will be brought back at the May meetings in Chicago.

Also tabled was eliminating the mandatory summer cutdown to 75 players, which would leave only one cut at the end of preseason.

Voted down were suggestions to permit coaches to challenge any officials' decisions other than scoring plays and turnovers, which automatically are reviewed.

Washington's proposal to move the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line instead of the 25 if a kickoff is sent through the uprights was defeated.

Other actions taken Tuesday included:

—Crackback blocks by a backfield player who goes in motion are now banned.

—Creating an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for committing multiple fouls during the same down with the purpose of manipulating the game clock.

—Allowing teams to interview or hire an employee of another team during the season if the other team consents.

—Modified some bylaws regarding bringing draft-eligible players to clubs' facilities; changed procedures for returning a player to the active ranks from lists such as physically unable to perform, non-football injury or non-football illness.

The leaper rule clearly falls under the category of enhancing player safety, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said last week.

"I would say it's going to go as far as it needs to from a player safety standpoint," said McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We're not going to put players in a position in which we think there is an unreasonable risk of injury.

"When we met with the NFLPA it was a rule that certainly caught their attention and they favored it right from the outset given what they felt like was a danger to the player, to the leaper and the risk of injury."

Withdrawn were proposals to award a third coaches' challenge as long as a team was correct on one of its first two challenges instead of on both; eliminating the maximum of three challenges entirely; and permitting a club to negotiate and reach a contract with a head coaching candidate anytime during the postseason. Now, there is a specific window for interviewing such candidates, whose season must be over before they can be hired.

The league also has considered allowing players and coaches on the sidelines to use the tablets to watch video, but that was not on the voting agenda Tuesday. For now, they can only look at still photos on the tablet.

"We're pleased to build on our partnership with the NFL and help lead the digital transformation of the game with today's approval of NFL referees conducting video reviews on Surface this upcoming season," said Jeff Tran, director of sports marketing and alliances at Microsoft.

"The introduction of Surface to this aspect of the game will improve consistency and accuracy of decisions and also speed up the overall review process to enhance the viewing experience for fans."


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