The NFL is so eager to bring back instant replay this fall that it is willing to play its games with two sets of rules.
Under a proposal passed by the competition committee, 7-1, that will be voted on by the owners next week at their annual March meeting in Phoenix, the league will use a coach's challenge system for the first 28 minutes of each half.
If a coach wants to challenge a call, he will press a buzzer and the referee will view a monitor on the field to decide whether to overturn the call. A coach will be allowed two challenges per game. If a challenge isn't overturned, he loses a timeout.
However, in the final two minutes of each half and in overtime, a replay official will be in charge. He'll buzz the field if he sees a questionable call. The referee will again make the final decision on whether to overturn it.
That means that if a team has used up its two challenges, it would be powerless to change a bad call with 2: 10 left in the game, but could get a call reversed with 1: 50 left.
The two-tier system is designed to win the 24 votes necessary to bring back replay. Some coaches might oppose a coach's challenge system during the whole game on the grounds coaches should be concentrating on calling the game at the end.
Some others might oppose a system in which a replay official was in charge for the entire game because it could lead to too many delays.
What this compromise system can do is overturn a call that costs a team a game in the final two minutes. One example was the New York Jets-Seattle game this past season when Vinny Testaverde was stopped inches short of the goal line on the final play, but was awarded the winning touchdown.
Replay has always been favored by a majority of the teams, but the minority has often mustered the necessary eight negative votes to kill it.
Replay was used in 1986-91, but was killed by 11 negative votes in 1992. Proposals to bring it back the past two years just failed, with 10 negative notes in 1997 and nine last year.
But after a rash of bad calls last season, some of the past opponents, including Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay are ready to change their votes.
The Ravens have favored instant replay back to their Cleveland days, but owner Art Modell said he wants to talk about the current proposal with his football people before making a decision. He said he hadn't received the details of the proposal from the league.
Even some of the backers of the proposals aren't thrilled with it. Coach Bill Cowher of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a member of the competition committee, voted yes. But Steelers owner Dan Rooney said: "It's hard to vote no. Bill Cowher doesn't think too much of it, either [but voted yes]. It just doesn't make sense."
The only negative vote on the competition committee came from Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, who said only 77 calls would have been reversed last year and that it wasn't worth installing instant replay to correct that many.
Pub Date: 3/11/99