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Sports

NFL Looking to Speed Up Games via Officiating and Breaks

Support by 75 percent of the 32 team owners would be needed at next week's annual meetings for passage of the proposals

New England Patriots' Jonathan Jones (L) fails to block an extra point kick by Atlanta Falcons' Matt Bryant during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston, photo: AP/Charlie Riedel
8 months ago

NEW YORK – For all those NFL fans longing for more action, fewer interruptions and a better flow to games, Commissioner Roger Goodell is with you.

The NFL is making plans to speed up the pace of games, including changing how video replays are handled and using a time clock for extra points. The league also is discussing with the TV networks how to make commercial breaks less intrusive.

“I watch a lot of football as a fan and as commissioner,” Goodell told a news agency on Wednesday after sending a letter to fans outlining the proposals. “I see when I am watching on TV or at a stadium that there are opportunities to make the game more compelling from a fan standpoint.”

For officiating replays, the referee no longer would go under a hood to watch a play. Instead, a tablet would be brought to him on the field and he would consult with league headquarters in New York. The final call would be made in New York.

Support by 75 percent of the 32 team owners would be needed at next week’s annual meetings for passage of the proposals.

In addition to a time clock for PATs when there is no TV break, the league is considering instituting a play clock after a touchdown.

Also, to improve the flow of games on the field and for television audiences, commercial breaks during the quarters would be reduced from 21 per game to 16 (four per period), although each would last 30 seconds longer. There also is a break at the end of the first quarter and another at the end of the third.

Teams also would not be allowed to make a challenge late in a commercial break, meaning no more scenes of a referee telling the TV audience when it returns that a video review will now take place — and then the network goes to another commercial. If a team decides to challenge a call at that time, the review would be done during the commercials.

The most significant change might be centralizing officiating decisions on replays, a system that has worked well for the NHL. NFL officiating director Dean Blandino and his New York staff have been involved in the process for years, but the referee has always been the final arbiter on such calls.

Aug. 7, 2014, referee Tony Corrente (99) watches the instant replay during the second half of an NFL preseason football game in Denver. Photo: AP/Jack Dempsey

“We did centralized replay with our office involved for two seasons,” Goodell said, “and this is one step further where we’re going to allow the New York office to make the final determination. We think this is very smart. We still provide for the referee’s input, but instead of going under the hood, he’ll use the tablet to see the play, and speak to Dean and have their voice. We want the referee involved when we look at replays.”

Other proposals, all with the pace of games in mind, would ensure that the clock is restarted at the proper time after a ball carrier goes out of bounds, and would standardize the length of halftimes. Regular-season halftimes are supposed to last 12 minutes, but referees have used their discretion in that area.

A 5-yard delay-of-game penalty would ensue for the offending team.

The number of commercial breaks would be reduced to four per quarter, and they would each last 2 minutes, 20 seconds rather than the previous 1:50. Goodell doesn’t see those extra 30 seconds as intrusive, something league surveys back up. Those studies showed fans preferred fewer commercial interruptions over the course of a game.

“In most cases, fans won’t know the breaks are longer,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “Obviously, there’s a break point there; these won’t be 10 minutes in time.”

After a score, networks often go to commercials, then do so again following the kickoff. The league found that the case after 27 percent of scores last season.

“I find it unattractive when we see doubling-up on commercials,” Goodell said.

What won’t be touched are the natural breaks that are part of the game and that build drama.

“We’re addressing interruptions and just trying to move things along,” Goodell added.

The owners begin their meetings Sunday in Phoenix.

BARRY WILNER

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