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USA TODAY Sports
PHOENIX – This could have been the week when the NFL makes its strongest statement yet about the debacle in New Orleans that marred the NFC Championship Game: It will never occur again.
Slim chance that happens.
As NFL owners and other prominent figures gather for league meetings in the desert, it is apparent that the league isn’t anywhere close to a new measure that ensures an egregious non-call won’t cost a team a Super Bowl berth.
“If we can’t fix what the fans saw in New Orleans … ” Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told USA TODAY, his voice trailing off, to allow you to finish the sentence.
I’ll take a swing.
It’s a disgrace, NFL.
If a collection of sharp minds and institutional leaders, armed with the latest in technology and opinion polls, can’t fix a system unable to correct a bum call (or non-call) that everybody and their mama saw, the NFL should be ashamed of itself for allowing its product to fall deeper into the murky waters of damaged integrity.
Be careful, NFL. You run the risk of having your premier events – with millions, if not billions, of dollars hinging on the outcome via legalized gambling – associated with the notion that factors beyond square-and-fair are influencing outcomes.
That’s why they need to tighten this stuff up.
Sure, there are team proposals we’ve seen before – that all plays are subject to instant replay review – and the competition committee put forth items for pass interference and roughing-the-passer situation to be reviewable with an expanded form of instant replay.
Yet with so much back-and-forth on the specifics, there’s hardly any consensus for where this is headed. In other words, there’s a chance that the blatant yet uncalled pass interference that Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed to break up a pass to Tommylee Lewis in the waning moments of the fourth quarter in the NFC title game can be repeated.
“I want to get it right,” Arians continued. “It’s such a wide-open can of worms.”
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Arians and fellow head coaches met for more than an hour on Sunday, and according to a few of them, the discussion was intense.
“We didn’t get very far,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told USA TODAY. “We’ll see if we can make any progress over the next couple of days.”
Added Arians, “We all want something better.”
Good luck. More discussions were slated through Tuesday, and a vote on multiple proposals could occur in the next couple of days. That timeline, though, also reminds us of a basic fact of NFL life: These meetings have been a place where replay proposals die and where owners prove just who runs the joint. With 24 votes required for any new measures, owners are typically much more stuck in the mud than their coaches, the guys whose jobs are dependent on winning.
At the combine in Indianapolis beginning in late February, there seemed to be momentum for an idea that might have corrected a New Orleans-like debacle in one fell swoop: The sky judge.
An eighth official, positioned in a booth upstairs with access to video, would serve as the eighth member of the crew and possess ability to throw a flag from upstairs – as a go-between from the officials on the field and the NFL’s centralized replay command center at league headquarters in New York. Ravens coach John Harbaugh was one the biggest proponents of the sky judge, which is similar to a feature in the new Alliance of American Football (AAF).
But the sky judge measure never made it to Arizona, as it wasn’t formally proposed by the Ravens or any other team, nor pushed by the competition committee.
That’s rather unfortunate. Like some coaches, I thought that had a chance.
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One member of the competition committee, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, said the mechanics of a sky judge were troublesome. As Jones described it, there were too many questions about the flow of the game, such as hesitation between plays while waiting to see whether the sky judge would throw a flag.
So, here we are again: Expand the existing form of replay?
Maybe it happens, maybe not. Replay – which didn’t exist from 1992-1998 and long operated on a year-to-year basis – is never an easy sell
“There’s a lot of emotion tied to replay,” Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons president and chairman of the competition committee, told USA TODAY on Monday. “That makes it unpredictable.”
McKay knows what is predictable. The NFL will get roasted if another NFC title game debacle happens.
“There is a sentiment to do something,” McKay said. “A situation like the NFC Championship Game causes you to react. You should react. But you don’t want to overreact. You must examine everything to determine why it transpired.
“Does your system have a solution for it?”
That’s the question the NFL needs to answer. Like yesterday.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.