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Whistle blowers

NFL to scrap all-star officiating crews for playoffs

Posted: Tuesday March 25, 2003 3:24 PM
Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2003 8:39 PM

PHOENIX (AP) -- The officiating gaffes in last January's playoffs have produced a dramatic change in NFL policy.

Postseason officials will now come from cohesive crews who spent the season together instead of those who were rated the highest at their positions.

In other words, the difference between a team and a collection of all-stars.

"The commissioner said, 'We can't stay status quo,'" director of officiating Mike Pereira said Tuesday. "One way of doing it is to revamp the evaluation system."

Under the new policy, the eight highest-rated crews will officiate the 11 playoff games, two fewer crews than in the past. The three that are rated at the top will do two games -- a wild-card or divisional-round game, plus one of the divisional championship games or the Super Bowl.

The result is that 56 of the 119 officials will work the playoffs instead of 70.

In the past, crews were put together for the playoffs based on the ratings of each official. These all-star crews, though, sometimes lacked cohesion.

"We have always hammered home the importance of being a crew, of teamwork," Pereira said. "But the ultimate reward, the playoffs and Super Bowl, was individual. We think this system reinforces what we want to do."

The change was motivated in large part by commissioner Paul Tagliabue's rare public criticism of the officiating. It came following San Francisco's 39-38 wild-card victory over the New York Giants.

With six seconds left, the Giants lined up for the winning field-goal attempt, the snap was botched and holder Matt Allen threw a desperation pass downfield. The Giants were called for an illegal receiver downfield, but tapes showed the 49ers should also have been called for pass interference.

That would have resulted in offsetting penalties and allowed New York a second shot at the winning field goal. The next day, Tagliabue issued his statement.

The crew involved in that game was made up of officials from different crews and included two of the three second-year officials who received playoff assignments. Normally, first- and second-year officials do not make the playoffs.

That policy will continue under the new rules. First- and second-year officials on crews that qualify for the postseason will be replaced by veterans who score the highest at the various positions. That will lead to only one or two changes per crew, Pereira said.

In addition, no official with less than five years' experience works at the Super Bowl, meaning if a crew advances that far, its officials will be replaced for the playoffs.

Still, most of the teams would remain intact, said Pereira and Larry Upson, the director of officiating operations.

Pereira said the policy goes beyond the playoffs.

"What we really want to improve are games 1-256," he said. "We think this will provide incentive for crews to work together to get things right so they can qualify for the playoffs as a unit."

Detroit head coach Steve Mariucci, who coached the 49ers in the playoff game against the Giants, said the new plan "might make sense."

"They learn to communicate with each other and work with each other from being together all season," he said. "There would be more cohesion."

On Wednesday, the owners will vote on two proposals, one to give each team one possession in overtime, the other to add two more teams to the playoffs for a total of 14.

Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said he didn't know if either will be approved.

"We might do it on a one-year experiment," he said. "But we might also want to give it some time to work out the kinks."

 
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