The NFL reached a huge decision in 2017 when it was determined that the head of officiating directly would be responsible for making all of the calls on plays that go to replay review. One of the reasons that they reached this decision was because they were comfortable with the man who would be making those calls.
No, that wasn’t Al Riveron, who has been the man in charge for the past three seasons. Instead, if was Dean Blandino, who surprised the NFL when he chose to vacate his job as the head of officiating ahead of the start of that season. Riveron’s ability to accurately gauge the plays being challenged has been widely criticized, something the league can’t help but notice.
According to Kevin Seifert, the NFL wants to try to woo Blandino back. In the interim, he has taken a job in broadcasting as an officiating expert, following in the shoes of Mike Pereira before him. He has also served as a rules consultant for both the AAF and now the XFL.
This comes at a huge moment as it pertains to the league’s ability to appropriately officiate its games, which is arguably now more important than ever, with betting a part of the equation. If the veracity of their games cannot be vouched for, they could open themselves up to lawsuits, in theory. Blown calls will be questioned along motivated betting lines.
At the same time, they are also in an incredibly vulnerable spot with respect to the expansion of replay. Last season, they experimented with allowing pass interference penalties, both on the offense and the defense, to be challengeable by replay, as well as by the booth.
By and large, this was roundly regarded as almost a complete failure, and this almost entirely fell upon the shoulders of Riveron, who was the one tasked with making the decisions for each play that was put in front of them as to whether or not they violated the rule, and did so to such a degree that it merited being overturned upon review.
“Riveron was responsible for the fundamental breakdown of the rule: a failure to establish a consistent standard for reversing the on-field call”, Seifert writes. “There is no indication that he will be fired, but internal discussions about Blandino as well as Anderson’s hiring confirm what has been rumored for months: There will be additional authority alongside him and perhaps above him in 2020”.
Earlier in the article, Seifert wrote that former official Walt Anderson had been hired to an as-yet-unannounced post with the title senior vice president of training and development, which puts him on the same tier as Riveron.
The annual league meetings begin at the end of this month, so the NFL would love to have some type of clarity about this situation and the structure of its officiating branch by the time they begin voting on proposals, including whether or not to end the one-year experiment with pass interference. If they can’t expect better results, it’s hard to argue it should be retained.