As several teams propose ways to alter the replay system through rule changes, the NFL is already making a major change in the replay booth framework, and it has terminated about three dozen people from their replay operations.
Five long-tenured replay assistants were dismissed by the league according to three officiating sources. Two more replay assistants were promoted to replay officials, replacing the retiring Larry Nemmers and Lou Nazarro. Two of those sources also stated that position of the replay communicator, the liaison between the replay booth and the television truck, has been eliminated, which both sources said was due to “configuration changes.” All sources indicated these terminations were not effected by performance.
The replay assistants that are not returning in 2019 are Gene Cunningham, Jim Grant, Terry Poulos, Terry Sullivan, and Bill Tracy. The communicators did not travel with crews, and 32 were assigned to local home games and traveled to neutral playoff assignments; 32 additional people were alternate communicators. It is not clear how many communicators are reassigned or dismissed. (All NFL employees under the umbrella of “gameday assistants” are hired on a year-by-year basis, and a dismissal technically takes the form of not being hired for the upcoming season.)
Replay assistants were assigned locally in 2016 and 2017 seasons, but have been attached to officiating crews in all other years. Many of the existing replay assistants were let go in that regionalization initiative. The latest dismissals are the only remaining replay assistants prior to 2016.
Matt Sumstine and Roddy Ames, both relative newcomers to the NFL system, have been promoted to replay officials for 2019.
All of these moves are a part of a sea change in the replay process that began when the league moved to centralized replay in 2017. When the current challenge-based replay system was initiated in 1999, the booth was staffed with a replay assistant and a video operator, the latter being someone to work the video controls and pull new video angles while the referee and replay assistant reviewed the play. Over time, the roles expanded, and the 1999 replay assistant role is now the replay official; the video operator is now the assistant, and does much more than manipulate a jog-shuttle wheel. Under centralized replay, however, the duties were curtailed slightly, as the command center actually takes over during a replay review. It is up to the replay official to confirm scores and turnovers, and to initiate a stop when there is an apparent reviewable element after the 2-minute warning in each half and overtime.
The replay official will now have a screen with 9 key camera angles and can select which ones to focus on between downs. This would be of particular use in the stop decisions when the clock is running. Television might not have time for replay or have a relevant angle to show between downs, and a replay official who is adept with the controls can preempt the reliance on a television director’s decision. The logistics for this replay system were in place last season, but the NFL opted to implement this in 2019.
In the process, the NFL has eliminated those who were initially hired as video assistants and have not advanced to replay official. The assistant staff is now mostly (and probably exclusively) comprised of replay officials from the college system who are groomed to potentially elevate to replay officials. This also seems to snuff out a potential path for on-field officials to retire to the replay chair. Retiring officials are supposed to get first crack at a replay vacancy according to the collective bargaining agreement; this provision will likely be negotiated out after next season.