As the NFL closes in on making a decision regarding whether to continue with replay review for pass interference calls and non-calls, one option includes keeping the procedure — and upgrading the person who will be responsible for it.
The possibility of a return to the league office by former senior V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino has lingered for months. He left the NFL just after the league finalized a transition from on-field replay decisions to a global process giving Blandino final say. Al Riveron became the next man up, and he has at times struggled both with the perceptions and the realities of the job.
It began with repeated errors and inconsistencies regarding catch/no-catch decisions, forcing the league to finally create a replay-review-proof formulation that makes the decision far more objective than ever before. This led to a fairly smooth 2018, until the NFC Championship game.
That’s when Riveron failed to realize that there’s a time to follow the rules, and that there’s a time to not follow the rules. In hindsight (and with the application of foresight), Riveron should have stress-fractured the rules by instructing the referee to drop a flag and to call defensive pass interference. If Riveron had, plenty of headache and heartache over the past 13-plus months could have been avoided.
Eventually, the league implemented on a one-year basis replay review for pass interference calls and non-calls in an effort to prevent future Rams-Saints storms of something other than sand. But the 2019 season was marred by the perceptions and realities of an inconsistent standard that shifted and moved throughout the year, with the bar starting at one point and then moving higher and then lower and the ultimately creating a sense that the decisions were being made not via TV images but Magic 8 Ball.
The silver bullet, then, could be to bring back the guy for whom the job was designed. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reports that a “cadre of internal advocates” are pushing for the league to pursue Blandino. But even if the league is willing to set aside any lingering hard feelings regarding Blandino’s unexpected exit stage left, the league needs to be willing to dig deeper than it traditionally has for this job.
“I think that there was a sense of, around the league office and some of the people in leadership positions, they didn’t value that position the way it should have been valued, and how important it is,” Blandino told #PFTPM in December 2017. “During the season, other than the Commissioner, the head of officiating is probably the most public-facing person in the office. And those decisions that are made, I mean, these affect the outcome of games, and that’s your product on the field.”
He’s absolutely right. And valuing the position isn’t solely about the money. The person responsible for making the replay-review decisions and explaining all close and controversial calls to the public should be doing only that, during football season. Someone else (like Riveron) should supervise the officiating function and the grading process over which the officials obsess like middle-schoolers looking at their Instagram likes.
It’s a clear and obvious fix, but it’s far from clear and obvious that the league will see what it needs to be done and then do it.