Instant replay, player safety and “Calvin Johnson Rule” discussed at NFL Owners Meeting

PHOENIX, Ariz. – NFL owners have invaded the Arizona Biltmore for their annual meeting, which is always a busy time for them, especially this year with 13 proposals on the board pertaining to changes to the instant replay system. One of the proposals is that all decisions made by game officials should be reviewable. Six of them propose that some or all fouls be reviewable.

The NFL Competition Committee has some serious reservations about extending instant replay to include a review of penalties. They see a “significant philosophical adjustment,” not to mention “unforeseen negative effects for on-field officiating.”

Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher is co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee. He says the Competition Committee has opposed reviewing penalties for years. Fisher says the Committee’s looked at lots of tape, especially when it comes to hits on defenseless players, and they couldn’t come to a consensus on a number of them, simply because of the disparity between the on-field standard and a frame-by-frame review from instant replay.

“A number of these fouls will go on Monday morning at the league office from the officiating department to player discipline, and oftentimes that process will take maybe an hour to determine whether or not it was in fact a foul,” Fisher said. “So you can see the issues we’re gonna have if we involve those things in replay.”

“Basically, what you’re doing is you’re adding another element of subjectivity,” Fisher said.

Over the past couple of seasons, the officiating department has started an enhanced training system, which has a performance review system that holds all officials accountable. The staff was reviewed at the end of the 2013 season, which led to 13 new officials being hired. There will be at least eight more officials hired for the 2015 season.

The league has also hired a sports performance consultant to monitor the physical requirements of game officials and make sure they’re at peak physical condition. There’s a provision in the 2012 CBA that will allow for the removal of game officials from the field who have problems performing their duties.

The officiating department is also looking to rotate crews even more during the regular season, which should reduce the disparity in fouls called among crews and create more consistency across the NFL.

One of the other big topics discussed at the meeting was the “Catch, No Catch Rule,” or the “Calvin Johnson Rule,” which was named after Johnson’s apparent game-winning catch was overturned in the 2010 season opener against the Chicago Bears. The rule garnered a lot more attention during the postseason after Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant’s catch against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff was ruled incomplete.

VP of Officiating Dean Blandino says the Committee never set out to change the rule, just “tweak” the language in the rule to make it “clearer and easier to understand.”

“In order to complete a catch, the receiver has to have control, both feet on the ground and he has to have it after that long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner,” Blandino said. “This would fall directly in line with our defenseless player rule where we say a receiver is protected until he can clearly establish himself as a runner.”

In Bryant’s case, he wasn’t able to establish himself as a runner because he was falling to the ground, and he tried to extend the ball over the plane, but the ball came loose as he hit the ground, therefore making it an incomplete pass.

“Then we get into is the player going to the ground or falling to the ground to make the catch or is he completing the catch while upright?” Blandino said. “Well, if he can clearly establish himself as a runner, then he’s not going to the ground to make the catch. If he hasn’t clearly established himself as a runner prior to going to the ground, then he has to hold on to the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, and that’s the rule that applied here.”

The ‘clearly establishing himself as a runner’ portion of the new language is something that Fisher can work with.

“I think it really clears things up, it really does,” Fisher said. “From a coaching standpoint, if you’re going to the ground, hang onto the ball. That’s how you’re gonna coach it.”

“If you start talking about reaching the ball out or doing something like that on the way to the ground, you invite a lot of grey area back into the interpretation,” Fisher said.

Two other matters of business discussed: Resolution G2 and the extra point. G2- which was handed to all 32 teams on Monday – would allow an ATC spotter [athletic trainer], who’s in the press box at every game, to be in constant communication with the Side Judge. If the spotter sees a player who is disoriented and needs medical attention, they’ll communicate with the Side Judge, the Side Judge would stop the game, pull the player to the sideline, and they’ll be evaluated by team doctors. This is clearly in response to what happened to New England Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman, who took a big hit in Super Bowl XLIX, looked woozy, but kept playing.

The New England Patriots proposed the extra point moving back to the 15-yard line. Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers proposed moving it to the one-yard line, giving teams more incentive to go for a two-point play instead.

“We’ve been down this path before where we’ll have this discussion for a number of years. You never know what will happen as to whether a proposal will have enough to get 24 votes. That’s not an easy thing to do,” Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay said. “There were some of us that were on the Committee for a long time where we really thought the two-point play, at no time, had a chance to ever pass, and now it seems like we’ve had the two-point play for a long time. Sometimes it takes some time.”

As far as eliminating the extra point, McKay says the Committee never discussed it.

“I’ve not heard that proposal, nobody’s made that proposal,” McKay said. “I think last year we kind of said that wasn’t the solution we were looking for.”






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