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NFL will consider speeding up pace of games

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a news conference during preparations for the NFL Super Bowl LI game on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. Credit: AP

If you’re frustrated over frequent delays during NFL television broadcasts, there may be some relief in sight.

Owners will consider measures that would speed up games by reducing the frequency of commercials, streamlining the instant-replay review system, standardizing the length of halftime and reducing the time between extra-point attempts and kickoffs. Owners will have their annual spring meetings Sunday through Wednesday in Phoenix.

Besides fewer commercial breaks, the league is expected to have all replay decisions made by the officiating department in New York. Previously, they were decided by the referee, although the league office communicated with the refs last year.

By having all reviews decided in New York, primarily by director of officiating Dean Blandino, there would be more uniformity in decisions, and they probably would take less time. The referee will still be in communication with New York, but instead checking a monitor on the sideline he will view replays on a tablet while on the field. The ref also will announce the decision immediately, not after a commercial break.

“We’re not taking the referee out of the equation,” Blandino said Thursday. “He’ll still be able to give input, but will no longer have the final say.”

Blandino said the replay review change is part of an “initiative to reduce downtime. We’re not looking to impact the play on the field, but to reduce the in-game downtime.”

The competition committee also will recommend a 40-second clock after a PAT try to make teams line up for the kickoff more quickly.

Also expected is a measure to reduce halftime delays. Instead of a 12-minute break, teams will have 13 minutes, 30 seconds from the end of the half until the start of the third quarter. The clock will start immediately. “We’re trying to find more efficiencies,” Blandino said.

Several other rules proposals and points of emphasis will be considered:

• The competition committee will recommend that overtime in the preseason and regular season be reduced from 15 minutes to 10. The committee, which does not believe the change would result in more ties, wants to reduce the number of plays as a safety measure.

• The committee will recommend that the amended touchback rule, enacted on a one-year basis in 2016, be continued on a one-year basis. The rule, meant to reduce the number of kickoff returns to cut down on injuries, makes touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line. Last year, fewer than 40 percent of kickoffs were returned, an all-time low.

• Owners are likely to approve a measure prohibiting leaping over the line of scrimmage on field goals and extra points. The concern is that the leapers risk injury because they can be blocked into the air or can fall awkwardly.

• There will be no rules changes on excessive celebrations, but the league will make a point of emphasis to encourage players not to go overboard after scoring touchdowns.

“As a former player, I understand the spontaneous nature, and we want players to have fun with their teammates,” said former NFL cornerback Troy Vincent, the league’s director of operations. “We want the officials officiating the game, not throwing flags because a guy is celebrating. We just want to bring clarity for all.”

• The competition committee will emphasize that referees can eject players for flagrant hits that are considered dangerous, and there could be more automatic suspensions for such hits. Committee chairman Rich McKay said a handful of such plays last year resulted in injuries, and that they should be subject to automatic suspensions.

• A proposal would expand the rules regarding defenseless receivers, making it a penalty if a defender strikes a receiver in the head or neck area anywhere along a route. That includes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, where defenders are permitted to make contact with receivers.

• The owners also are expected to pass a permanent measure allowing ejections for two unsportsmanlike penalties in a game. The rule was enacted on a one-year basis in 2016.

• The Bills and Seahawks have proposed a rule that would allow a coaching challenge for any officiating decision, including a foul that is called or not called. Owners have resisted previous suggestions to allow replay reviews of penalties.

• The committee will propose a rule that would prohibit teams from committing multiple penalties on the same play to manipulate the game clock, making such an infraction an unsportsmanlike penalty. The clock also would also be reset. The Ravens and 49ers last year purposely committed multiple penalties to run time off the clock.


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