NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has stated that for the 2017 season all replay reviews will be centralized in the league’s gameday command center and decided by the senior vice president of officiating. Goodell’s comments came from an interview on Mike & Mike on ESPN hours before the Competition Committee announces the rules proposals for 2017.
The commissioner said, “We are going to centralize the replay back here in New York. Dean Blandino will have the final decision. We think that will move it much quicker.” This implies that the change has been finalized, although the owners do not vote on rules changes until this weekend’s annual meeting. All changes to the rulebook require a three-quarters vote of the owners, although it is possible that Goodell already has the whip count of the ownership.
Centralized replay will not be a radical departure from current practice. Multiple sources familiar with the replay operations have told Football Zebras that Blandino has effectively been making the replay calls ever since he was included in the review process in 2014. The rule revision that season was to allow designated representatives from the officiating department — namely, Blandino and senior supervisor of officiating Al Riveron — to be available to consult with the referee on reviews. At the time, this was the assessment that we reported:
Although the complete operational details are not known, it appears that the referee will be allowed to make his call in a replay review. Initial indications are that Blandino and Riveron will take a hands-off approach, and allow the process of the review to go as normal.
When it came to fruition, the process seemed to lean towards an interventionist role, rather than an advisory role, a distinction that the league declined to comment on at the time. When observing the replay process from the command center in 2014, Jarrett Bell of USA Today described the process, concluding, “Then Riveron informed [Vinovich], via the headset. ‘We’re going to go with “stands,” Vinny,’ Riveron said.” This effectively shows the passive role in the replay process for one of the highest graded referees in the last three years.
One source has said that “Blandino has already made up his mind” on replay calls before the referee even gets to the replay equipment. Although the referee has had the ultimate say on the calls, another source told us, “what referee is going to go against the guy who grades him?”
Although Goodell might be sparse on the details, if Blandino is the only staff member that handles the replay reviews, it means that Riveron is cut out of the process. When there are 10 games being played simultaneously, this could have replay reviews circling the command center like planes approaching LaGuardia. It also means that all replay decisions will be made by someone who has never officiated a game at any level on the field.
The replay decisions have been in the hands of the referee since replay was reinstituted in 1999. Under the replay system from 1986 to 1991, a league supervisor made the decision in the first years, and then a dedicated replay official in the final seasons. The first replay review in a Super Bowl was by Art McNally, the venerable head of officiating. Long after he made the call, a decisive angle came from the TV production truck that showed the call was wrong.
Today, the gameday command center where all the replay decisions will be made bears McNally’s name.