With the constant microscope that the NFL and its officials come under, instant replay has expanded throughout the years and full-time officials have been discussed.
Still, to this point, the NFL still doesn’t employ any full-time officials on the field, but the league isn’t opposed to the concept on a limited basis.
“We believe that at least in a limited form that it’s a positive step, so we agree with (Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians) on that front,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week. “In fact, that’s something we fought for in our last labor negotiations with the officials is to be able to hire a limited number of officials, I think it was 16 or so, so that we would have the ability to have them in the office during the week.”
Presumably, those 16 full-time officials would then head an officiating crew in each game that week. However, that hasn’t happened yet.
Goodell said the dialogue on that possibility continues.
“I do believe our officials are incredible professionals. I think they officiate at the highest possible level,” Goodell said. “But they can always improve, and we will try to seek improvement.”
The number of reviews initiated from the replay booth broke 100 in 2007. In 2011, that number exceeded 200 at 215. In 2012, it burgeoned to 349, a number nearly equaled in 2014. But last year the number of reviews initiated from the replay booth went back down to 276, with 37 percent of them being overturned.
“Whether they’re full-time or part-time, officials are going to make mistakes,” Goodell said. “That’s just – unfortunately the game is fast and it is difficult to officiate. They do an extraordinary job. We’re proud of the job they do and we want to try to give them more resources and more ability to improve, just as the game of football continues to improve.”
Since the NFL started tracking what kind of calls were being challenged, pass completions have led the way. Just under half of the challenges in 2007 were questioning a completion with a 37 percent success rate in challenges. Since 2007, pass completions have always been the most challenged call on the field, sometimes accounting for double the next-most-challenged call. Initial calls of an incomplete pass were almost always the next most-challenged call.
The NFL has tried to clarify what constituted a completed pass and what isn’t complete, but it continues to be a source of questioning.
Last year, when a coach challenged the ruling of a completed pass on the field, that initial call was overturned 46 percent of the time. Completed passes were challenged 139 times, fumbles were challenged 81 times and incomplete passes were challenged 80 times. Initial rulings of an incomplete pass were overturned 36 percent of the time.
“We could develop greater consistency, and consistency is really the core of what we’ve talked about all week here in officiating,” Goodell said. “That’s what we want to deliver to our teams.”
Perhaps that’s why teams brought several proposals to the NFL Competition Committee this year to increase either the number of plays that could be challenged or the number of challenges a coach can have per game.
Both proposals to expand the number of challenges allowed by a coach failed.
“One of the things about instant replay is over the years since we put this in in ’98 is we continue to add plays to the reviewable list and really have made it, to some people’s point, confusing and certainly long,” said Rich McKay, the chair of the Competition Committee. “One thing that Baltimore did in their proposal is they made it much more simplistic of what is not allowed to be reviewed, and I think that we’re going to look at that. We’re going to meet as a committee, we’re going to talk to the membership, and we’re going to look at trying to submit a proposal off of Baltimore’s that rewrites the rule and rewrites the language, and submit it in May for a vote. So that would be the one that has been tabled and will be voted on as far as replay goes.”
So whether it’s instant replay or full-time officials, the NFL continues to consider changes. When consideration turns to implementation remains the question.