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NFL considering adding booth umpire and more to help on replays

Referee Jerome Boger and back judge Tony Steratore

Referee Jerome Boger and back judge Tony Steratore review a call during the fourth quarter of the game between the Panthers and the Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 12, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C. Credit: Getty Images/Grant Halverson

The NFL is looking into adding a booth umpire and a senior technology adviser to the referee as a way of helping officiating crews better manage in-game communication, although it is uncertain whether the measures will be adopted for the 2020 season.

Owners will deliberate on those possibilities, as well as other rules changes, when they meet via video conference next Thursday. One rule the owners will not be considering, however, is  extending the replay challenge system for pass interference calls and non-calls. The challenge system was used last year as a response to a missed call in the Saints-Rams NFC Championship Game. But after several complaints about the system – including inconsistent application about how reviews were interpreted – the league won’t even discuss using it again.

The league sent proposed rules changes to teams on Thursday.

The NFL’s influential competition committee indicated last month that it supports the idea of using a video feed for an official located in a booth above the field. That official could then communicate with the referee if he or she believed a foul was committed in the event a call wasn’t made on the field. The booth official would be in addition to Senior Director of Officiating Al Riveron, who decides instant replay reviews from the league office in New York.

The league will also consider an alternative to onside kicks, where teams would have the option of trying to convert a fourth-and-15 from its own 25 after a field goal or touchdown. A successful conversion would allow the team to retain possession.

At least 24 of the league’s 32 owners would have to approve any rules change. But even if either or both rules can’t muster enough support, the NFL might experiment with the booth official and onside kick revision in the preseason.

Other rules being considered:

•  A permanent expansion of replay reviews after scoring plays and turnovers that have been negated by penalties, as well as any successful or unsuccessful extra-point attempt.

•  Giving the defense the option for the game clock to restart if it declines an offensive penalty that occurs in the final minutes of each half.

•  Preventing a team from committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.  

•  Expanding defenseless player protection to a punt returner or kickoff returner who hasn’t had enough time to prepare for contact by an opponent.

The Eagles had proposed a rule to make the overtime period 15 minutes instead of 10 minutes, but the team withdrew the measure.

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