Steelers president Art Rooney II knows exactly what he wants to see next season: Better officiating.
Better officiating, as you remember, might have gotten the Steelers into the playoffs. The NFL acknowledged that an illegal formation penalty should have been called on the San Diego Chargers on the missed 41-yard field goal by Ryan Succop of the Chiefs that, if it had been good, would have sent the Steelers to the playoffs.
That final-day-of-the-season play occurred nearly three months ago, and some Steelers fans still haven’t gotten over how a field goal that is successfully converted in the NFL about 90 percent of the time these days didn’t go through.
But as he heads off to the owners meetings at the plush Ritz-Carlton resort in Orlando this weekend, Rooney also knows what he doesn’t want to see during the 2014 season: Too much time spent by the referees under the instant replay hood.
Rooney isn’t sure how the NFL will get there, but all he knows is he wants the level of officiating to be improved — by whatever means — but not at the price of extending games.
So how can the NFL improve the officiating, and the replay process, without further spilling over into “60 Minutes?”
“That’s a key question. That to me is one of the main things, we don’t want a longer game,” Rooney said. “We don’t want it to take longer for replay. The question of having it go to the league office, that would be one of my questions about that, and I think that’s one of the reasons they didn’t want to rush into making a decision this year. Again, our goal is to get it right, not necessarily to have more replays or more delays in the game.”
The NFL office must agree with Rooney. According to NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay, “You’re going to see a real emphasis on on-field officiating and trying to be the best we can be and trying to make sure there is the necessary (mechanism to do so).”
Among the proposals that will be taken up in Orlando are these:
— Any officiating call can be challenged, not just those currently specified.
— Personal foul penalties can be reviewed.
— Instant replay should be expanded to include all types of change-of-possession plays, such as the one on Dec. 22 in which the Steelers blocked a Packers field goal, yet Green Bay ended up with the ball and a first down.
— Add additional cameras on the field to make sure that all angles of a play are covered, not just those available on a TV Network’s telecast. (Note the Patriots are the team proposing there be more cameras in stadiums.)
— The referee can consult with the league office in New York before ruling on a replay — something that Rooney believes already occurs. This would be a slightly different version of the NHL replay system, in which all calls are reviewed and either upheld or reversed via centralized replay.
— The instant replay system can be used to correct an officiating error.
Rooney doesn’t believe there will be radical changes adopted immediately, but he does expect some modification that will allow the league — probably, officiating chief Dean Blandino — to have more input into calls.
“Number one, I think that we need to review replay in general and from what I understand, the Competition Committee did spend a lot of time on it this year. As I understand it, they felt like it requires more study than just saying, “We’re going to make some changes this year.” I really think their attitude is that it needs a little longer term than just making a change at this meeting,” Rooney said.
“I think there will be a lot of discussion about it. I think the whole question of should we make a change in terms of the referee actually being the one that makes the decision, I think there is going to be a lot of discussion about that and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a change in that at some point, probably not this year, but at some point.”
Still, it appears the Steelers are going to need further convincing that any of the proposals will make a difference before they vote favorably, except for that allowing the referee to consult with the league. Any such adoption requires a favorable vote from at least 24 of the 32 teams.
“I think everybody feels like we can do better than what we have now in terms of the time it takes. I don’t know that I favor any of the proposals that are on the table today,” Rooney said. “There is no objection to the one about allowing the referee to consult with the league office during the replay. Frankly, I think that happens anyway. So, there is no objection to that. I think in terms of, let’s say anything more ambitious than that, I think it’s going to be studied over the next year. ”
Rooney’s comment is interesting because the league has never said that it does consult with referees as they review replays.
“I’ve heard that. It’s my sense that happens, yes,” Rooney said. “But again, the idea of having replay either go to the league office for final decision or go upstairs for final decision, I think that’s all fair game for discussion and I think that is sort of under consideration. In terms of this year, I think they didn’t want to rush into that. They really want to kind of take a little longer look at how to address that. I think it’s going to be something that they take another year to look at.”
Right about now, the Steelers probably wish the NFL had rushed into making changes in advance of the 2013 season. They might have ended up making the playoffs if it had happened.