Replays should stay on field

It’s that time of the year when NFL owners get to cast votes that might change the way the game is played and officiated.

Will they vote to get rid of the Tuck Rule? No. Will they vote to clearly define what is a catch and what is an incomplete pass? Not that, either. They will, however, make illegally kicking a loose ball before a possession change a loss-of-down penalty.

Now, that’s progress!

The most significant changes coming from the NFL annual meetings this week likely will revolve around the instant replay rule, but don’t expect any modifications to include moving the decision process upstairs and eliminating the input from on-field officials.

This is what the Buffalo Bills have proposed, in the interest of saving time during a game.

Saving time would be beneficial, but if it comes at the expense of making accurate decisions, it is not worth it.

As a group, I don’t feel the replay officials are prepared to make critical decisions without input from the on-field referee. These two officials act as a check-and-balance in concert with each other.

I also think it would hurt the psyche of the officials if the replay decision moves upstairs, rather than remain on the field.

If a replay official overturns a call that is made on the field and does so incorrectly, the crew ultimately will be blamed, even though that officiating group had no input into the decision. This will turn the officials against replay and it would be a throwback to the original replay system that lasted for five years before imploding.

Heck, if you are going to take replay out of the hands of the referee, then follow the model of the NHL. Pick the best and brightest of the replay officials and place them in the command center in New York. Let them make all the decisions there. That might be the best way to ensure that the most consistent and correct decisions are made.

In the end, I feel the game should be left on the field as much as possible, and officials should be empowered to officiate the game — including with the use of replay. While mistakes in replay have been made, there have been very few and certainly not enough to change the system.

Here is what will change in replay:

–All turnovers will be looked at by the replay official and either confirmed as being correctly ruled or — if in question — will be sent down to the referee for him to review. This mirrors the process last year on all plays that were ruled a score. This will allow coaches to hold on to their challenges and not risk losing a timeout.

–A backward pass that was ruled forward and incomplete can now be challenged and given to the recovering team, if there is a clear recovery in the immediate action after the incomplete pass ruling.

The Pittsburgh Steelers proposed two changes that the owners will consider.

The first was make the overtime rule the same in the regular season as it has been in the playoffs the past two seasons. The rule essentially means a team cannot win on the first possession by kicking a field goal.

This should pass. No one seems to be in opposition that this rule be the same throughout the entire season and not just the postseason.

The second Steelers’ proposal is to include the quarterback in the pocket in regard to the horse collar-tackle rule.

The original rule was enacted to protect against open field, one-on-one tackles when the tackling player could have tackled the runner in a manner other than grabbing him inside the collar and pulling him down to the ground.

When the quarterback is in the pocket, it is likely that the rushing defender is being blocked and is reaching for anything that he can grab. Those types of pull-downs did not create the type of injuries that occurred in the open field.

I understand the Steelers’ concern, but I don’t think this will pass.

The Competition Committee has proposed a couple of other changes.

One proposal essentially would adopt the college substitution rule. If a team is lined up with more than 11 men in a formation for three seconds, the whistle will be blown and a dead ball fouled will be assessed. This will prevent a team from stacking a defense with more than 11 players on the field to prevent a score near the end of a game.

Another proposal would define a player who is crack-back blocked as a defenseless player. He would become the ninth defenseless player. This is a safety rule that will pass.

So while the most significant developments this week may involve modifications to instant replay, the biggest change might be the overtime rule extending to the regular season.

There is not much else this year that will make the game look a lot different.

In my next column, we’ll examine the NFL’s points of emphasis.