INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s Competition Committee is discussing two proposals that would significantly alter officiating — whether to make referees full-time employees and how to centralize the replay review system.
According to one league official familiar with the committee’s conversations during its meetings here at the NFL Scouting Combine, there is increasing support for both ideas. The full-time referees would be gradually phased in, to give current referees the opportunity to either exit their current careers or to leave the officiating ranks. But if the idea is approved, the phase in could start as soon as this season. According to the official, there is greater interest in full-time referees than there is in adding an eighth member to the officiating crews. In the past, officials have resisted the idea of becoming full-time employees because they did not want to give up their other, in some cases lucrative, jobs, so one question that would linger over the process would be how many referees — the top member of each crew — would leave officiating and have to be replaced.
There is also increasing support for centralized review, which would presumably be operated out of the league’s officiating headquarters in New York. The hope, the league official said, is that centralized review would improve two areas: consistency of officiating and the time it takes to review calls. League officials have become disenchanted with referees going under a hood to review replays on the sideline and there is a push to limit the number and length of interruptions to games. The referee on the field would still be involved in the review process — the league official said the NFL did not want the referee to simply stand on the field awaiting the decision from the centralized review office — but this would be a significant step to take review off the field.
The Competition Committee will continue to meet here this week, then convenes once more before the league’s annual meeting in late March, at which votes on new rules would be taken. The committee also is discussing extending the one-year experiment with putting touchbacks at the 25-yard line. The rule, which was used in 2016, decreased the number of returns — the goal, because returns are considered one of the most dangerous plays in the game — and the committee wants to extend the experiment by another year or to make the rule permanent.