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Officiating changes likely will be implemented right away, unofficially

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 24: Referees huddle in conference during the NFL preseason game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on August 24, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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The last time Commissioner Roger Goodell exercised his broad discretion to make in-season rule changes, a new procedure for the postseason was announced after the regular season ended. It was a wise decision to delay the announcement until all 256 regular-season games had been played; if the league had announced a postseason rule change during the regular season and the same glitch that prompted the change (i.e., the unavailability of replay review to check the amount of time on the clock at the end of a half) had occurred over the balance of the regular season, it would have been a bad look for the league.

This time, the NFL has pulled the sheet off the postseason procedural change with three weeks left in the regular season. Which will be a problem if any errors that could have been avoided via communication with V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino aren’t.

Which, as a practical matter, most likely means that the official change coming for the postseason unofficially will be used for the balance of the regular season. No one will know for sure if it’s happening, and plenty already suspect that it’s already been happening from time to time, given the presence of the real-time communication system that connects the league office to the game sites.

Recently, PFT reported that the league was considering providing exactly the kind of assistance that will now happen in the postseason during stand-alone regular-season games. When the league office focuses its full attention on prime-time games over the next three weeks, getting it right as to the types of errors the new postseason procedures are designed to eliminate becomes even more important.

Otherwise, fans and/or media will declare, “If the new procedure is so good, why didn’t they make it effective immediately?”

So, basically, look for these new changes to be implemented discreetly for the rest of the regular season -- especially in situations where the NFL is staging only one game at a time, like the NFL does in the playoffs.