It is here. 100 years in the making, the NFL kicks off his centennial season this week. Here are five officiating things I’m watching for as the season begins.
1. Expanded instant replay for pass interference
This could get ugly.
New this year, coaches can challenge to see if the opponents committed defensive or offensive pass interference. Centralized replay will conduct the review.
The object of this rule is to fix the errors that “20 drunks in a bar” could agree on. Al Riveron, senior vice president of officiating, reviewed 54 pass interference situations (called or not called) in the 2019 preseason. Of those 54 replays, he issued only 7 reversals (13%); however he didn’t once overrule a pass interference flag on the field from the Art McNally Gameday Center. All of Riveron’s reversals assessed a pass interference penalty. (Keep in mind that the 54 replays are rather high, because coaches were using preseason to test pass interference scenarios in replay.)
This is good news. It shows that Riveron is not over-officiating the replay and trying to find a penalty to call.
This rule change will not be the perfect be-all and end-all for pass interference. Aggrieved fans will always say their player was mugged or played good defense. I hope that this won’t become a hot mess like the catch rule of 2017 or the roughing the passer point of emphasis during the early part of last season. But, as long as there is judgement involved, fans will never be happy.
2. Centralized replay will have a hand in ejecting players for actions other than fighting
Last year, centralized replay would step in and help the officiating crew make sure they properly ejected the right players if a fight broke out. I supported this as officials hate it when a player gets away with a cheap shot. That rule worked well, and now it will expand.
This year, replay will weigh in if a personal foul is ejection-worthy. It started in the first preseason week when replay interceded, and 4 players were disqualified in preseason alone.
So, if the officials call a player for a personal foul, Riveron can review to see if the player should be ejected; additionally he confirms any ejection by the crew.
I call it The Gronk Rule. I will be interested to see if the on-field officials issue an ejection for flagrant fouls, or if they’ll pass on ejecting and “let Riveron handle it.” I hope it is the former. Officials need to be a strong presence on the field when things are getting out of hand. They can’t afford to let centralized replay take back control.
3. Three new referees
This year, the NFL will have three new referees: Adrian Hill, Scott Novak and Brad Rogers. They take over for the retired Pete Morelli, Walt Coleman and John Parry. In the last two years, seven referees have retired — an astounding turnover.
Hill, Novak and Rogers have been well prepared for this new role. I will be interested to see how the three perform this year. By rule, rookie white hats aren’t eligible for the playoffs, so we won’t know how accurate their calls are, but we can see how they’ll run a game.
4. Will sophomore referees take the next step?
Last year, Clay Martin, Shawn Hochuli, Shawn Smith and Alex Kemp were rookie referees. This is the first year they are playoff eligible. They aren’t eligible to officiate a Super Bowl, but they can call a playoff game. With so many retirements in the past few years and a few other referee retirements on the horizon, these four referees need to step up quickly and step into playoff roles.
There are many precedents of first-year-eligible officials taking the field for a playoff game. Not to put too much pressure on the four sophomore referees, but it’s time to step up and be playoff-quality referees.
5. Will we have a “quiet” season?
Last year, Riveron had a challenging year of trying to mentor new referees, put crews together after several late retirements and shepherd through the roughing the passer point-of-emphasis. One of those issues was a huge assignment, but Riveron had to juggle all three.
Many pundits opined that Riveron was on thin ice with the league office last year. Then the NFC Conference Championship was marred with an error and many thought Riveron was going out the door. Yet, he’s here in 2019 and putting his stamp on the league’s officials.
Riveron needs a clean season. There will always be controversy, but his zebra herd needs to keep high-profile errors to a minimum — or better yet — nil.
And finally, a Super Bowl LIV crew prediction
Each year I predict the Super Bowl crew. My predictions just about always turn into a kiss of death — although accuracy forces me to point out that I did correctly predict Jeff Bergman to the Super Bowl last year.
With that in mind, my Super Bowl LIV crew prediction is:
|R||62||Ron Torbert||10||Michigan State||attorney|
|U||129||Bill Schuster||20||Corrente||Alfred||insurance broker|
|DJ||8||Dana McKenzie||12||Corrente||Toledo||claims adjuster|
|FJ||97||Tom Hill||21||Hochuli||Carson Newman||teacher|
|SJ||60||Gary Cavaletto||17||Vinovich||Hancock||general manager, agricultural operations|
|BJ||105||Dino Paganelli||14||Smith||Aquinas College||educator|
To quote the late, great Red Cashion after every coin toss, “Gentlemen, let’s play football!”