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Dean Blandino: AAF’s Sky Judge provides template for NFL

AAF chairman Tom Dundon talks about his expectations for the league in its first season and how happy he is with the early positive engagement with fans.

The NFL’s Competition Committee is studying the idea of adding a video official to each officiating crew. To see how it would work in action, all the NFL has to do is look to the Alliance of American Football.

On an incompletion during the third quarter of Sunday’s game between the San Antonio Commanders and the Birmingham Iron, Commanders defensive back Duke Thomas’ shoulder connected with Birmingham receiver Tobias Palmer’s head. Officials didn’t throw a flag, but the Sky Judge intervened, ordering a penalty on Thomas for hitting a defenseless receiver.

“The theory is a person who has access to the video feed can run the plays back and forth and if they see something safety-related or something late in the game that could be critical to the outcome to the game, and it’s a clear mistake on the field, then the Sky Judge can correct it,” AAF rules analyst and officiating consultant Dean Blandino told PFT. “That’s what happened in the game yesterday in Birmingham. In that instance, it worked as intended. We were able to communicate directly to the referee, and it was seamless. There wasn’t a lot of discussion.”

The NFL, prompted by the missed pass interference and hit on a defenseless receiver calls late in the NFC Championship Game, received seven rules change proposals from teams related to expanding instant replay. Adding a video official to each crew was the idea that received the “most interest” from the Competition Committee during their meetings in Indianapolis.

It would take 24 of 32 NFL owners to pass any new rule.

“It’s definitely something they’re talking about, and obviously what happened in the NFC Championship Game was really a driver for this conversation, but this had been discussed before,” said Blandino, the NFL’s former head of officiating. “I think it’s an opportunity for the NFL to look and see what the Alliance is doing and take from it. I know they’re going to have a lot conversations coming up with their Competition Committee meetings and their league meetings, and I know this will be a part of it.”

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said last week that the Competition Committee will have to answer several questions before presenting the idea to ownership. Among them are: How do you find competent Sky Judges, and what penalties is the Sky Judge limited to correcting or at what point in the game?

Blandino agreed finding that many qualified officials with a technical background is “not easy” and one of the “biggest challenges” of implementing the idea.

The AAF’s Sky Judge can implement a penalty for anything safety-related at any point during the game. But for obvious pass interference or any other rules violation that impacts the game, the video official is limited to ordering a penalty or overturning a penalty only in the final five minutes.

“I think in order to not negatively impact the flow of the game, I think it has to be limited,” said Blandino, “whether that’s limited by what the Sky Judge can review or when they can review it. I think those are things you have to make sure it’s narrow in scope.”

Blandino has consulted with The Alliance since last summer, and contrary to recent rumors, he said he has no plans to take on a similar consulting role with other spring leagues.