Windsor Star

NFL moves closer to `sky judge' with new rule

- JOHN KRYK Twitter: @Johnkryk

One of the new NFL playing rules for 2021 — approved Wednesday by owners — might not create a so-called “sky judge” or “booth umpire,” as coaches have been lobbying now for years.

But it does empower the replay official to radio down and stop play, at any time, to fix gaffes and oversights — if only for calls or matters of an objective nature, not subjective.

In particular, the replay official may now either be consulted by the referee, or proactivel­y stop the game and call down to the referee, to “advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present, and/or to address game administra­tion issues, including but not limited to” penalty enforcemen­t, proper down, the spot of a foul, the game clock, possession, a completed or intercepte­d pass, either the touching by a player or location of the ball in relation to out-of-bounds or goal lines, and whether a player is down by contact.

Excluded from that list? Offensive or defensive holding, and offensive or defensive pass interferen­ce. Yeah, the biggies. They're often the most controvers­ial, impactful and disputed calls in a game.

Just ask New Orleans Saints fans. Their team probably was denied a Super Bowl berth in January 2019 when officials did not throw a flag for blatant defensive pass interferen­ce by a Los Angeles Rams defender, which prevented the Saints from running out the clock before attempting a short game-winning field goal in the NFC championsh­ip game — which wound up leaving the Rams enough time to come back and win in overtime.

A fully empowered replay official (or whatever you want to call him or her) surely would have corrected that gaffe. The new NFL rule stops short of permitting that fix, alas.

But we're much closer to that outcome.

One must understand that the NFL'S designated keeper of the rules — the competitio­n committee — permits the game to evolve only at glacial speed with regard to both replay and better officiatin­g. So, gotta be patient and just accept this is a step in the right direction.

Some other new rules passed Wednesday by owners:

• Overtime is eliminated in pre-season games.

• In a one-year experiment, to limit the number of receiving-team players to nine permitted to line up in the “setup zone” — which is the sideline-to-sideline area within 15 yards of the restrainin­g line (10 yards from the kickoff spot). Previously, all 11 players could and typically would line up in this area whenever an on-side kick was expected. The hope is the new nineman limit will permit a slightly greater number of on-side kicks to be recovered.

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