Replay catches Billick smiling

Ravens coach pleased system extended rather than made permanent

March 31, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PALM BEACH, Fla. - Unlike the way he felt about instant replay most of last season, Ravens coach Brian Billick felt like a winner yesterday.

A leading advocate for reforming the system, Billick was satisfied when NFL owners agreed on a five-year extension of instant replay rather than making it permanent.

The only modification approved was granting a third challenge to a team if it is successful on both of its allowable replay challenges. Billick, however, wants more changes, including narrowing the scope of reviewable plays.

"I think this time frame gives us a realistic opportunity to say, `We're entrenched in this for a long enough period of time. Now, let's see if we can substantially look at ways to improve it,' " Billick said. "I think five years is an appropriate period of time."

In other news at the league meetings, the owners extended the NFL Trust (a revenue-sharing agreement), and league officials said they were optimistic about keeping Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett out of the draft.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and league counsel Jeff Pash announced that a federal appeals court has agreed to hear arguments to overturn the lower-court ruling allowing Clarett, a sophomore, and other underclassmen and high schoolers into the draft. The appeals panel will hear arguments April 19 and could deliver an immediate ruling.

Pash said if the court rules in the NFL's favor before the April 24-25 draft, Clarett, Southern California sophomore receiver Mike Williams and seven others would not be included. If the court orders a stay and the NFL subsequently loses the appeal, a supplemental draft for those players would be held within 10 days of the court decision.

In February, a U.S. district judge tossed out a league rule that a player must be out of high school for three years to be eligible for the draft, saying the rule violated antitrust laws.

"We think it is a positive indicator of the seriousness with which the court of appeals is taking the argument," Pash said.

Like the Clarett matter, instant replay took an interesting turn when it received more opposition than expected in the move to make it permanent.

As a team, the Ravens wanted to add instant replay to the league's bylaws. But that proposal didn't reach a vote when there wasn't enough support voiced in preliminary discussions.

The final vote was 29-3, with Cincinnati, Kansas City and Indianapolis against using instant replay through the 2008 season. Twenty-four teams were needed to approve the longest-ever extension for instant replay.

"There was more concern than the final vote would indicate," Billick said.

Since replay was re-instituted in 1999, it has helped the Ravens more than most teams.

The Ravens have had 17 of 58 calls reversed in their favor (29 percent), which is slightly more than the league average (27 percent). But last year went against that trend; they had only two out of 11 challenges changed (18 percent).

Billick's biggest concern is how replays stop the flow of games.

He suggests a system in which replays are initiated and viewed away from the playing field. But a modification as radical as that is not expected to pass.

Billick also wants to restrict reviews to game-changing plays rather than minor disputes such as a catch at midfield.

"If it stays in the current form, I'm not sure it will pass the next time," Billick said. "That was the impetus of what I wanted to come to. There is enough discontent that we need to aggressively see how we can improve this thing."

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who is on the eight-member competition committee, said instant replay probably will not keep the status quo over five years.

"Now [the extension] prompts us on the committee to really work very hard on it to make it better over the course of the next couple of years," Newsome said.

On Billick's urging, the competition committee has discussed selecting three coaches from each conference to study instant replay and devise ways to improve it.

"Hopefully, we can move forward to get some additional input in how to make it better," Newsome said.

The other issue approved by owners was the 15-year extension of the NFL Trust, which provides $4 million per team in licensing revenue for shirts, hats and other products with team logos.

The agreement, which allows teams in small media markets to continue to compete financially with large-market clubs, was approved by 26 teams, with Dallas, Miami and Washington voicing opposition. Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Oakland abstained.

The previous agreement was set to expire today.

"It ratifies the way we're doing business now and have been doing business for the last several years," Tagliabue said. "And how we're doing business is very effective."

Tagliabue said he was receptive to a contract extension beyond May 2005, when his current deal expires. But Tagliabue, who will turn 64 in November, added: "I don't want to work forever."

Instant replay stats

Percent

Yr. Reviews Reversed reversed

'99 195 57 29

'00 247 84 34

'01 258 89 34

'02 294 94 32

'03 255 66 26

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