One of the biggest questions regarding the 2021 season arises from the significant change to the replay-review process. Al Riveron has exited the job that entails making all final replay decisions. The decisions are now expected to be made several others.
That turns on the reason for centralizing the process on its head. Several years ago, the league no longer wanted up to 17 different referees watching the images and applying the “clear and obvious” (previously known as “indisputable visual evidence”) standard. So the league brought the entire function under the roof of 345 Park Avenue and assigned the duties to Dean Blandino. After Blandino left, the job fell to Riveron.
Now that Riveron is gone, it will be Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell and others. It’s unclear how many others, but anything more than one will result in other people potentially applying their own interpretation of what the standard is or should be.
Case in point. On Saturday at Lambeau Field, Packers coach Matt LaFleur challenged a ruling that receiver Malik Taylor had failed to secure a reception before going out of bounds. The officials on the field indicated that Taylor had juggled the ball; he definitely did not. However, it wasn’t clear and obvious that he’d gotten both feet down before going out of bounds.
A slow, methodical, frame-by-frame review arguably showed that one foot was still down when Taylor made the catch. But it required close and careful study, watching the foot while watching the ball and maybe concluding that, indeed, the catch happened before the foot came up.
Again, the ruling on the field was that Taylor had failed to make the catch. The ruling could be overturned only if there was clear and obvious evidence that the ruling was incorrect. It was not clear and obvious that Taylor had caught the ball. The ruling on the field shouldn’t have been overturned, under the standard for reversing such calls.
We don’t know, and presumably won’t know, the name of the person assigned to make these decisions during regular-season games. Some may honor the standard. Some may yield to the temptation to re-officiate the play based on the video. The goal in bringing the function into the league office was to have one person who could be trusted to apply the same standard, consistently and fairly.
That person was supposed to be Blandino. Riveron wasn’t suited for the job. Now, instead of doing the prudent thing (i.e., bringing back Blandino), the function apparently will be performed by multiple persons who may apply different standards at different times. Which could create plenty of confusion — especially if we never know who it is that is making each decision.