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Goodell has broad discretion to make in-season officiating changes

Roger Goodell

AP

On Friday, Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted at possible officiating changes for the 2015 postseason. While details regarding the potential enhancements (which presumably will entail further incorporation of technology) have not yet been revealed, the process is fairly straightforward -- during the season, the Commissioner has broad discretion to make changes to the officiating function.

The requirement of 24 owner votes to change applicable rules arises only in the offseason, when owners consider changes within the confines of the normal rule-making process. (Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Goodell mentioned the possibility of in-season changes during the recent ownership meetings, but Goodell did not provide specifics.)

Still, Goodell won’t act unilaterally. Another source told PFT that the Competition Committee will discuss the situation and make informal recommendations. Moreover, a Commissioner with a constituency of 32 would be wise to check with the most influential of his supervisors before changing the rules for the 2015 postseason.

It shouldn’t be a tough sell, given that the goal will be to ensure that the officials avoid making major, glaring embarrassing errors during the most important games of the year.

At a minimum, don’t be surprised if the league permits the league office to communicate with the referee during playoff games to assist with the proper administration of the game. (Some think it’s already happening, informally.) It’s also possible that replay could be incorporated, not via the full-blown review process but through consultation with the on-field crew before a call is finalized, based on clear and obvious evidence that a call on the field was wrong.

The Commissioner last made an in-season rule change after the 2009 regular season, allowing for instant replay to be used to correct game-clock errors during the postseason. The change was limited to the question of whether time had or hadn’t expired at the end of the first half or the second half, or of an overtime half (yes, the halftime rules apply after a second overtime period in playoff games).

The change in early 2010 was sparked by an error at the end of the second quarter of a game between the Giants and the Eagles. A fumble by former Giants receiver Domenik Hixon resulted in a recovery by former Eagles linebacker Moise Fokou. The officials determined that the clock had expired; replays showed that time remained.

Whatever the NFL decides to do, any effort to ensure that the calls are right is commendable. The concern in this regard shouldn’t be whether the NFL goes too far; it should be whether the NFL goes far enough.