As the NFL looks at potential replacements for the recently scrapped rule that made pass interference reviewable by instant replay, the first step might be using a “sky judge” system or another replay-related tweak on an experimental basis during the preseason.
The league and the rulemaking NFL competition committee are discussing “a few options” related to instant replay for the owners to consider as prospective preseason experiments, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Owners could discuss those ideas during a video conference scheduled for May 28. That’s when they are to discuss other rule-change proposals for the upcoming 2020 season and potentially vote on them.
The NFL already has gotten rid of the rule that made pass interference reviewable by instant replay last season. The league and competition committee decided last month to allow that rule to expire after one year without even a renewal vote of the owners being taken.
The sky judge could serve as, in effect, a replacement for that rule. A sky judge, or booth umpire, would be a member of the officiating crew stationed in front of a video monitor in the press box at each game, empowered to overturn any obviously erroneous call by the on-field officials. NFL coaches supported the concept last offseason but it was put aside in favor of the rule that made interference reviewable. Two teams, the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers, have proposed a booth umpire this offseason for consideration by the owners.
The sky judge system would take effect for the 2020 season if it’s ratified by at least 24 of the 32 teams. But rule-change proposals made by individual NFL teams rarely are approved by the owners without an endorsement from the competition committee. In this case, it appears the league and the competition committee favor first giving the sky judge – or another new replay mechanism – a tryout during the preseason.
A separate proposal by the Ravens and Chargers calls for the addition of a senior technology adviser to the referee to each officiating crew. That proposal, which apparently would give the video official less authority than a sky judge would possess, also could be a candidate for a preseason experiment.
Other proposals made by individual teams this offseason include the Philadelphia Eagles proposing a fourth-and-15 alternative to the onside kick, a concept not approved by the owners last offseason when it was proposed by the Denver Broncos. The Eagles also have proposed restoring overtime during preseason and regular season games to 15 minutes, up from the current 10 minutes. Those proposals are to be considered by the owners during the May 28 video conference.
The owners also are to meet by video conference next Tuesday, when they will be by Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, and deal with some business matters and workplace diversity issues.
Owners are scheduled to vote next Tuesday on raising the NFL’s per-team debt limit, according to a person close to the situation. The limit currently is $350 million per team and last was raised in 2018. The consideration for another raise, first reported by ESPN, is related to franchise values, the ability of teams to service their debt and current economic conditions, according to the person familiar with the issue.
Sills is likely to update owners on the league’s efforts to reopen teams’ facilities amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The NFL has sent protocols to each team for the eventual reopening of facilities, without players present at first, and has told teams to be in compliance with the protocols by Friday.
The league has released a full schedule for the 2020 season, but is contemplating contingencies that include, according to people familiar with the NFL’s planning, a delayed or shortened season, games in empty or partially filled stadiums, and games being relocated or rescheduled.