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“Sky Judge” experiment won’t involve pass interference calls and non-calls

The NFL will reportedly table the idea for a 'sky judge' in hopes of not rushing into a new rule like the league did last year with pass interference replay review.

A year after being burned by the unintended consequences (and ill-defined standards) of extending replay review to pass interference, the NFL hopes to avoid a similar outcome when it comes to an alternative device for preventing another Rams-Saints NFC Championship debacle.

And so the league is treading lightly, adopting a preseason experiment that entails expansion of the existing replay assistant’s duties.

As approved by the NFL on Thursday, the procedure makes clear that the replay assistant cannot initiate the process. The referee must request information from the replay assistant “during a normal crew conference on the field” or before the play clock reaches 25 seconds. The replay assistant will then provide input to the referee, if requested, based on the video provided by the network broadcast of the game.

In other words, the referee must first realize that something is amiss. Otherwise, the referee will never know to ask the replay assistant for any type of information.

The categories for a conference initiated by the referee with the replay assistant are limited to six areas: (1) game administration; (2) complete, incomplete, or intercepted pass; (3) touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line; (4) location of the ball in relation to a boundary line, the line of scrimmage, the line to gain, or the goal line; (5) down by contact, if the rule was not ruled down by contact on the field; and (6) status of the game clock subject to the limitations in Rule 15, Section 3, Article 9 (Item 1) regarding when time on the game clock can be restored.

Missing from the list is pass interference calls and non-calls. Which means that this year’s effort to fix the problem that provided the impetus for change -- an egregious non-call of pass interference in a playoff game -- will not fix situations like that.

So what’s the point? While this effort to bridge the gap between the observations of the on-field officials and the images the rest of us see on TV is better than nothing, the reluctance to undermine in any way the authority of the referee, the unwillingness to pay for a system that would entail hiring an additional member to each officiating crew, and the refusal to provide a break-glass-in-event-of-emergency option for the kind of play that turned the NFL on its head after the Rams-Saints postseason game makes this, at best, an effort to create the impression that the league is doing everything it can to get the calls right when, in reality, it really isn’t doing all that much more than it already was doing.

Before the end of the preseason, the officiating department must submit a report to the Competition Committee, with the goal of determining whether any aspect of this half-hearted half-measure will be implemented for the 2020 regular season.