NFL's goal: Better refs, faster games

NFL's agenda to speed up games, improve officiating is the right call

By Mike Preston, Baltimore Sun

Link: http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/bs-sp-preston-column-0328-20170327-story.html

NFL owners will be in Phoenix, Ariz., for two more days and apparently want to improve officiating and make more efficient use of time on game day.

It's uncertain if they can accomplish both, but at least there is an attempt. The poor quality of play has already made games unbearable to watch at times, so the NFL is basically admitting it is aware of the problem.

The NFL is being proactive instead of reactive in these days where social media is king and everyone wants to be entertained 24/7. A lot of the proposals for the 2017 season are geared toward eliminating downtime.

But a top priority should be employing full-time officials. The proposal is on the table again and it just makes so much sense. The NFL has always stressed getting calls right, so the best way to achieve that is to hire officials who can be trained, conditioned, evaluated and paid as full-time employees. Having top-rated referees is part of promoting the "integrity" of the game.

If the NFL had better-trained officials, maybe they wouldn't spend so much time in these little huddles where they often look confused. If the quality of officiating was upgraded, maybe there wouldn't be as many challenges.

One proposal by the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks permits a coach to challenge any officials' decision except for scoring plays and turnovers. The league can't let this happen because games will last longer, and that's not part of this year's agenda. Plus, football is a game played and refereed by humans and there is always going to be some degree of human error.

Head coaches shouldn't have almost unlimited opportunities to challenge officials. It cheapens their authority and leaves them open to more ridicule than usual.

I like the idea of the replay hood possibly being pushed out and replaced by a tablet viewed by a referee on the field. The final say on the replay would come from a group at the centralized replay headquarters in New York, most often senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, but the top official on the field would still have major influence.

What this does is allow for more consistency on the calls instead of decisions being open to the interpretation of each official on game day. Most observers say decisions will come down faster. I also like the idea of the official revealing the decision to the home crowd even during a commercial break.

If it speeds up the game, count me in. There is a proposal about shortening overtime periods in preseason and regular-season games from 15 minutes to 10 even though it will remain 15 for the playoffs, and there is a proposal to start the clock faster once a player goes out of bounds.

Overall, most of the proposals for 2017 are sound.

In 2016, the NFL instituted a rule that players would be ejected after accumulating two unsportsmanlike penalties in a single game. Owners will vote on a competition committee proposal to make that rule permanent, and hopefully that happens.

The league apparently wants to ease up on handing out taunting penalties following touchdown celebrations. I'm old school and still believe in just giving the official the ball after a touchdown. The goal post leap should be abolished because of safety concerns, but if an individual or his teammates have a quick 10-second celebration without showing up the other team, that's fine.

It's 2017, not 1967.

There is a proposal to ban players from leaping over the center during field goals and extra points, but I like the current strategy. It puts some excitement back into the play and the timing to block a kick has to be perfect.

The NFL will consider other proposals, but changing the starting point of a touchback from the 25- to 20-yard line is no big deal.

The NFL has to shorten the time of its game and put some punch back into it.

The league is at least trying.

Todd Walker

Todd Walker

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