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Authority over replay review seems destined to become decentralized

The Bears' second-round tackle Teven Jenkins is out for back surgery, pointing to some of the holes left in the scouting and drafting process in 2021 due to COVID.

Al Riveron is out as the person ultimately responsible for replay-review decisions in 2021. So who’s in?

The answer appears to be no one.

Per a source with knowledge of the dynamics, the NFL currently plans to give game-day replay authority to multiple people. Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell will be responsible for replay decisions, and others are being hired to assist in the process. It’s expected that whoever happens to be handling a given game when a replay review becomes necessary will watch the footage and decide whether to confirm or reverse the ruling on the field. (It’s unclear at this point whether Russell Yurk, who served as one of Riveron’s assistants in past years, will have a role in the revamped process.)

The approach contradicts the basis for taking the replay function to the league office. The goal was to centralize the process, replacing the judgment of 17 different referees with one person. That, in theory, ensures consistency in the application of the standard that plays subject to replay review will be overturned only if “clear and obvious” visual evidence exists. Now, with more persons involved, different approaches could develop.

The situation also complicates the decisions made by coaches to initiate a challenge, where applicable. Before the league took the process in house, each referee developed a history and potentially a pattern when it comes to handling certain decisions. Once the NFL assumed control, the team knew that Riveron would be making the decisions. Now, the teams won’t know who is handling their game -- unless a specific person is assigned to each game in advance and the teams are informed of that person’s identity.

It’s not known what will happen for standalone games, whether primetime in the regular season or throughout the postseason. Some have advocated an approach that includes three persons making all decisions. Given the expanded roster of persons making replay decisions in the league office, it would be much easier to assign three people to the games that are played at a time when no other games are happening -- if the league is willing to do that.

The NFL brought the process to the league office with the specific goal of having Dean Blandino handle all decisions. Riveron, frankly, wasn’t nearly as effective as Blandino would have been. The right solution, in our view, consists not of adding more people to make decisions but peeling off some of the new money to be generated by gambling and ensure that the replay process works as envisioned.