Kevin SeifertNFL NationClose
- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
INDIANAPOLIS — Early discussions among NFL competition committee members suggest the league is unlikely to make significant changes to replay review this offseason.
While emphasizing that talks remain in the early stages, New York Giants co-owner John Mara — a longtime member of the committee — said he’s “not sensing a lot of support for making changes.”
Members spent the past two days discussing the present and future of replay in response to a missed pass interference call near the end of regulation in the NFC Championship Game. Mara said it’s possible the league’s officiating department could change on-field mechanics to better guard against such misses, but he added that it’s unrealistic to expect results from expanded replay or the addition of an eighth on-site official.
“Calls are just missed,” Mara said. “Officials are just human. They’re going to miss calls from time to time. … To think that we’re going to be a system where calls are always going to be corrected from New York or from upstairs, I just don’t think we’re there or even close to being there.”
Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, another member of the committee, echoed Mara’s view.
“I think there is still a concern about reviewing judgment calls,” Murphy said. “We’ll study, but I don’t think anything is imminent that something will change. … Unfortunately, the reality is that officials are human. They make mistakes. Coaches make mistakes. Players make mistakes.”
Committee discussions here at the NFL scouting combine in essence rehashed previously rejected ideas. Committee chairman Rich McKay joked that the topic has come up every year “since like 1986,” and Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said there aren’t many new ideas to consider.
“We’ve had these conversations,” Jones said. “And you start rehashing them, and you go, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve had this conversation again and again and again and again and again.'”
In recent years, the committee and most owners have rejected plans that would expand replay for new categories of eligible plays and/or adding an eighth official to each game’s crew. Neither garnered enough support to move to a full vote of owners.
Mara said adding an ability to challenge no-calls, for example, raises questions about what replay officials would review.
“Are you going to look for one area or check the entire offensive line?” Mara said. “I think you get into a lot of areas with a lot of unintended consequences, and I just don’t think there is a lot of sentiment for going in that direction at this point.”
Unique variables this offseason include the no-call in the NFC Championship Game. Officials failed to flag Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in the fourth quarter — a decision that had a direct impact on the Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The rapid expansion of sports gambling also adds an element to ensuring credibility of officiating calls.
Jones said the no-call in the NFC Championship Game has created “energy” to discuss the system. But like Mara, Jones noted that mistakes are part of the fabric of the game. Notably, no one involved in the decision — not commissioner Roger Goodell and not any member of the competition committee — has expressed public support for expanding replay or adding an official.
“Over the course of time,” Jones said, “everybody gets affected by a call, by a player making a mistake, by a coach making a bad decision. Those things happen.”
McKay said he expects several teams to propose “significant” changes to replay, but he indicated the committee’s discussions will be limited more to “tweaks” that could give the system more capacity to correct obvious mistakes. Last month’s missed call provided a natural impetus for discussion, but McKay did not commit to anything beyond that and said he does not think the committee will reach a consensus until the March 24-27 owners meetings in Phoenix.
“Given the significance of the play, and the focus on that error late in the game, you need to have a top-down discussion again,” McKay said. “I think that’s the right thing to do. When you have it, you may come up with some ideas to modify replay, add to, subtract from, whatever it may be. I think that’s a healthy discussion.
“And also, I think you’re going to have some people who have historically wanted to expand replay and want to use this moment to have that discussion, which I don’t blame them for wanting to do. For any discussion about it, you have to go all the way through, meaning end to end, because there are so many complications to it, in the way it impacts the game, officiating, time of game, pace of game, all those things. We are going to do that.”
In other news, McKay confirmed that the committee has discussed a handful of on-field celebrations that included players or other team officials who were on the bench. McKay said the committee will remind teams that only players on the field can participate but said the reminder will not affect the celebrations themselves.