One of the most powerful men in the NFL was just granted an almost unprecedented level of authority.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on Thursday that Dean Blandino, the NFL's Head of Officiating, will visually assess all replay reviews from New York. Although Blandino will reportedly collaborate with on-site referees in all cases, he will ultimately make the final decision.
Consolidating the replay system, like anything, has its pros and cons:
Pro: A unified replay system could speed up the pace of play.
This, of course, seemed to be Goodell's primary selling point. Since all touchdowns, turnovers and major plays inside of the two-minute mark are subject to automatic review, anyway, the NFL uses these breaks in action to collect some extra dough from their lucrative advertising contracts. If Goodell truly hopes to streamline the review process (which, considering the advertising contracts, is worthy of some skepticism), assigning one central figure to serve as the judge, jury and executioner is actually a pretty decent plan.
From the NFL headquarters, Blandino will be able to watch replays, make his decision, and deliver his ruling in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Of course, this plan, on the surface, fails to consider that:
Con: Things could very well get busy for Blandino in a hurry
With two slates of multiple afternoon games every Sunday, many of these contests will hit the two-minute mark at the same time. If Blandino, as Goodell's ruling implies, has the final say on ALL replay reviews, there is a legitimate possibility that he experiences some overlap. I have several concerns with this.
For one, having to make multiple rulings in the span of several minutes (or, again, several seconds) is going to impede the decision-making process--provided, obviously, that Blandino gives each case his complete attention. In this sense, the best-case scenario is that your particular game experiences a de facto traffic jam, which kind of defeats the purposes of a replay autocracy in the first place. Inversely, Blandino, under undue pressure, could wind up making hasty or otherwise ill-informed decisions to adhere to Goodell's accelerated pace-of-play philosophy.
"Couldn't the NFL just hire more people to sit in with Blandino to prevent such an occurrence?" They could, and they probably will. However, they already do that for every game. You may have seen those guys on the field wearing black and white. Then again...
Pro: This should divert some criticism from on-field officials
Steelers fans, lemme get an AMEN if you've ever felt personally wronged by an NFL referee.
Despite the fact that NFL officials are facing outrageous amounts of scrutiny from players, fans, and commentators, one truth remains: these dudes have an exceedingly difficult job. "How do you miss that call, you blind idiot?" I scream at a high-definition television after seeing an ultra-slow motion replay of a receiver barely dragging his big toe on a single, unpainted blade of grass.
Giving Blandino the authority to make the final decision on difficult plays enables players, fans, and commentators to direct their scorn at a single figure, rather than “officials.” Roger Goodell didn't give Dean Blandino a promotion: he created a scapegoat. Herein lies the next issue...
Con: The league is attempting to remove the human element by inserting another human element
Even if Blandino is the fairest, most bipartisan authority figure in world history, his position as czar of officiating is still going to invite concerns regarding his objectivity. This isn't to say that Blandino will directly influence the outcomes of any games. At least not intentionally.
The dude on the far left holding the football is Duke Johnson. Officials ruled that Johnson fumbled on that play (he did) and that Washington recovered (they didn’t). Cleveland lost, and calamity ensured. In the middle of the firestorm was Blandino, who, despite concrete evidence to the contrary, insisted that Washington recovered the ball. It seemed almost like he went out of his way to agree with the call on the field. He’s a company man.
Blandino’s new position could also create some issues among current referees. The most recent referee lockout is only five years old, so it wouldn’t be crazy to question the overall stability of the relationship between the NFL and the referee union.
As recently as 2016, the head official was able to collaborate with an off-site command center during replay reviews. The final decision, however, was his to make. Taking that power away could be seen as a slap to the face, especially among the senior members of the officiating rankings.
It is also worth pointing out that, despite 20 years of experience in officiating, Blandino has never actually served as a game official. His career biography includes various positions as a “replay official,” but never as an off-field referee. This isn’t to say that Blandino is unqualified for his position - he absolutely is, perhaps more so than any current official - but, again, maybe his topmost status will rub some on-field guys the wrong way. Who knows.
Overall, questioning the effectiveness of a centralized replay system is certainly warranted. It could work, but it is going to take a while to convince the average fan as such.