Ravens ready to endorse permanent instant replay

Despite qualms, Billick to stand by club's decision

March 29, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Ravens' support for instant replay won't be challenged by coach Brian Billick.

In what should be the most substantial news coming out of this week's annual NFL owners meetings, the Ravens will be among the teams expected to push for the system to become a permanent fixture.

The proposal needs to be approved by 24 of the 32 team owners. At the very least, instant replay will be extended for five years if there's not enough support to make it permanent.

According to a Ravens spokesman, owners Art Modell and Steve Bisciotti - the outgoing owner and soon-to-be sole owner, respectively - support instant replay and will endorse the proposal. General manager Ozzie Newsome is a member of the NFL's competition committee, which unanimously backed the idea this month.

But one Ravens official not in favor of adding instant replay to the league's bylaws is Billick, a leading critic of the system last season. Billick said he would stand by the club but would prefer the Ravens abstain from voting to make the statement that the current format needs revamping.

"I'm willing to acquiesce with very serous reservations about it," Billick said. "But I've been given assurances that there will be very aggressive analysis of what we can do to make the system more efficient."

Billick advocates a streamlined system in which replays are initiated and viewed away from the playing field.

His suggestion is to take challenges away from coaches and give the power of review to a specific replay-only official. He also wants to narrow the scope of reviews to game-changing plays rather than dissecting disputable first-down catches and the spotting of the ball.

A breakdown of 2003 statistics on the system shows reviews and overturns were down significantly but game delays were up an average of 22 seconds from the previous season.

"If from the end of one play to the beginning of another the official can't identify an error, it must not be egregious," Billick said. "If we make some errors - which we will and which we still do - that's part of the game. It's not a criticism of the officials. If anything, it's a reaffirmation that I have faith in the officials.

"According to the league, the officials get it right about 95 percent of the time. I'm comfortable with that 5 percent margin of error with the officials upstairs regulating it rather than the coaches' challenges."

Billick blasted instant replay in October, when two apparent catches by tight end Todd Heap (one for a touchdown) were ruled incompletions on challenges.

"I quit, I give up," Billick said after a 26-6 win over the Denver Broncos. "I've tried to be an advocate for instant replay, but dump the whole f------ thing. I've tried to do the company line. League, I'm sorry. Dump it."

After that tirade, the league fined Billick for $15,000 for comments he made a week earlier. The league ruled Billick was directly criticizing an official when he said he "does not know that Johnny [Grier, NFL referee] wasn't looking at pictures of his kids in that little [replay] booth."

The only modification recommended by the eight-man competition committee was granting a third challenge to a team if it is successful on both of its allowable replay challenges. This change is expected to be approved.

The instant replay system was twice approved on a one-year basis in 1999 and 2000, and then adopted under a three-year format from 2001 to 2003. If replay goes in permanently, it would need 75 percent backing from ownership to remove it.

"The format's been in place for five years, and the competition committee will recommend that we vote on it as a permanent rule," said committee co-chairman Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons' general manager. "Hopefully we'll be successful in that so that we don't have to discuss this in further [years]."

In addition to replay, owners are expected to add a 15-yard penalty for excessive on-field celebrations and extend the revenue-sharing agreement for logos and other licensed items. Other items to be discussed will be extending the one-week postseason period to interview assistant coaches for head coaching positions by two days and adding an interview process for front office personnel during that time period.

Owners also will talk about the upcoming negotiations to extend the collective bargaining agreement with the players union beyond its expiration date after the 2007 season.

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