Trying to Put the Instant Back in Replay
The NFL's new replay review system, featuring a centralized office in New York with officials monitoring every game, is expected to speed up the process. Here are the details of how everything will work, plus answers to readers' questions
NEW YORK — In the Art McNally Game Day Central room inside the NFL offices on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, I learned over the weekend just how the new replay review system will work, ushered through the process by NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino.
Three notable points surfaced.
The two senior executives in charge of NFL officiating, Blandino and senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron, will have a major role in replay decisions now, and it will start even before a coach throws his challenge flag.
Blandino and Riveron will have the ability to communicate directly with the referee and the replay official in the booth while he is making his 10- or 20-second way from announcing the challenge on the field to the portable replay booth on the sideline.
Replay Central in New York will not only cue up the right replays for the refs to see. Blandino and Riveron will be able to tell the refs when a replay is obvious—either right or wrong—and so when the ref gets under the hood he won’t have to waste time looking at every angle of an obvious call. That happened in the preseason already.
How the system will work:
Each game will be watched in New York by a member of the NFL’s officiating department, with four screens in front of him. The screen on the top left in the program feed—what the TV viewers are seeing. The screen on the upper right is the one the referee sees under the hood. The one on the bottom left is a touch screen that shows every angle from the in-stadium cameras, so Riveron or Blandino can identify the best angle, touch it, and play it on the bottom right screen. This all happens while the referee in-stadium is doing the natural business of organizing the replay review—talking to the challenge-flag-throwing coach, announcing it to the stadium and the TV audience, and jogging to the portable review monitor. Riveron or Blandino can touch the best angle on the touch screen and see it in full view on the screen on the lower right, and communicate that to the ref and the replay official so the proper replay can be cued up when the official gets to the hood.
“This summer,” Blandino said, “the process has been more efficient. The numbers reflect that. The average delay per review was down 17 seconds through Week 3 of the preseason from the first three weeks last year: 2:24 last year, 2:07 this year. We’re expediting the process and being more efficient.
“We have a monitor here. When there’s a tight catch at the sideline, or any scoring play, or any turnover, they are calling that out either to myself or to Al Riveron, and we go over and we start to review the play, the same way the official would in the replay booth. So we can look at the angles even before the review is initiated and then when the referee makes the announcement, we’re already setting it up for him. Before the ref goes under the hood, we’re telling the replay official, ‘Replay B, the end zone shot. That’s the best shot. Get that cued up for the referee.’ Where we’re really saving the time is when the ref goes under the hood and he doesn’t have to take all the time looking at all the replays—there’s no discussion, we’re not trying to wait for angles. He goes right in, looks at the play, looks at it for 60 seconds if he needs to, and then comes to a decision. That’s been the biggest change. In the past, the ref comes over and communicates with the replay official, ‘What’s the ruling on the field? What angles are you going to show me?’ We’re having that conversation while he’s on the way over to get under the hood.”
I asked Blandino for an example of how the streamlined process is working. He pointed to the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati-Indianapolis preseason game last Thursday. Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish, on third-and-3, scrambled for what was ruled on the field to be a three-yard gain and a first down. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis challenged it, thinking Harnish didn’t make it. While ref Walt Coleman got the challenge alert from Lewis, and while he announced the challenge on the field, Blandino watched the replay and directed Coleman to the best angle.
“Walt comes over the sideline and says, ‘Okay, it sounds like he’s short, let’s look at the best angle.’ We had it cued up for him. We showed him a quick shot, he decided pretty quick he was short, decided where to spot it, and Cincinnati won the challenge.’’
Blandino said Coleman was under hood for “maybe 15, 20 seconds.” Without the New York assistance, he said, the review probably would have kept Coleman under the hood for the maximum of 60 seconds.
“I believe the reviews will be significantly shorter, and more efficient,” Blandino said.
That’s the idea. Now we’ll see if it’s as good as it’s seemed in August when the real games begin.
Your emails, and my responses:
ON THE TIGHT END POSITION. Hey Peter, would the league or the sportswriters (I’m not sure who has the jurisdiction) ever consider reclassifying the tight end for purposes of end of season recognition into something more reflective of the very different ways the position is now played? In hockey there is an award for the best offensive defenseman as well as the best defensemen in the truer sense. What about classifying the TE as a receiving TE as well as a blocking TE? Maybe for HOF purposes as well? Since in today’s NFL there are clearly two very different types of players for the position.
—Dave, Westwood, N.J.
Interesting thought. You’re saying, correctly, that Tony Gonzalez is a different player than John Mackey was at the tight end position, because their jobs are different and the game is different. I understand your point, but I would also say the game has changed at other positions too. Fullback is almost an afterthought now, and 25 years ago it was a major position. Quarterback is different, because passers never threw 650 passes in a season two generations ago. I like your thought, but the game is evolving at many positions.
ON KEVIN SUMLIN. I have a question about college head coaches who might be NFL material: Who do you think is more likely to become a NFL head coach first (if at all): Kevin Sumlin or David Shaw? And in general, are NFL teams more likely to consider successful college coaches who are innovators (Sumlin, Chip Kelly) or traditionalists (Shaw, Bill O’Brien)?
—Glenn Fajardo, San Francisco
Great question. In fact, The MMQB’s Greg Bedard and I were just talking about that, and about writing about the next great college coach to be NFL material. My gut feeling is that Shaw stays for a while longer at Stanford—I talked to him about it last September, and he said whoever in the NFL wants him will have to convince his Palo Alto-loving wife that the NFL is better than the Bay Area, in life and in football environment—and that Sumlin will be an NFL coach before him. But that’s just a gut feeling. I don’t know Sumlin and have never spoken with him. Seems like a very smart guy.
ON THE RICE PUNISHMENT. I have to take issue with a suggestion in this week’s column that commissioner Goodell tried to justify his actions in the Ray Rice case by comparing them to the actions of the the Atlantic County Prosecutor, who he suggests did ‘nothing’ by accepting Rice into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program. PTI is a diversionary program for first-time offenders, including those accused of domestic violence. Rice will be under probationary supervision for a period of time and the charges will be held in abeyance. If he obeys the terms of PTI supervision, the charges will be dismissed. If, however, he violates the terms, prosecution of the original charges will resume and he will face a potential jail sentence. Thus, PTI is hardly ‘nothing.’ We all bristle when we feel that an athlete has gotten undeservedly light treatment because of his status as an athlete. It is just as bad when an athlete gets unduly harsh treatment because of his status. Maybe domestic-violence offenders should not be eligible for PTI, but they currently are eligible. Thus, Rice was treated the same as any similarly situated non-athlete would have been. To me, that sounds like equal justice under the law, which is what a prosecutor should strive for.
—Joe Connor, Morris Plains, N.J.
Thanks, Joe. Duly noted.
ON BEN GARLAND. Very glad to see that former Air Force Falcon Ben Garland made the Denver Broncos roster. For any service academy football player to make it to the pros is a long shot and statistical near impossibility what with their service commitment post graduation. One point from the piece is misleading however. Ben Garland did not learn to pilot and was not flying F-16s as an undergrad. Undergrads at the Zoo (USAFA) receive orientation flights in various Air Force jets during their four years at the Academy. He likely was allowed to have hands on the controls during a flight with an instructor, but his ‘flying’ was limited to mere moments under very safe conditions. Academy grads who are pilot-qualified receive a year of pilot training post graduation, which does not count as part of the service commitment. Still, a feel good story and personally I am a fan of any Zoomie trying to make it in professional sports.
—Donald Holmes, Salt Lake City
Thanks for the clarifications, Donald. It was a pleasure to interview and write about such a smart and level-headed guy with the right priorities.