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Owners Ready To Vote On Replay

How desperate are National Football League owners to improve officiating? They're getting ready to vote in a bastardized instant replay system, with two different sets of standards during the course of a game.

Unable to tolerate another game-altering blown call, NFL owners have put the return of instant replay atop their "must-do" list during annual meetings held here at the Arizona Biltmore beginning Sunday.

Three-quarters approval (24 of 31 teams) is required. A vote is expected early in the week.

Opponents of instant replay -- and there are fewer and fewer each year -- point out that only 77 calls would have been reversed last season during the course of 37,000 NFL plays. That's two-thousandths of a percent.

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However, enough of those 77 blown calls were so blatant, so critical, so influential to the outcome of the game, that instant replay (1986-91) is almost certain to be back for 1999 after a seven-year absence.

The proposed system is as convoluted as many of the current rules -- i.e., pass interference, offensive holding -- are ambiguous, but it comes with a 7-1 NFL Competition Committee approval rating, along with a catchy nickname: "Two Plus Two."

The coach of each team receives two "challenges"-- an old USFL rule - per game, as long as the call in question occurs before the final two minutes of each half. The referee uses a monitor on the field to make the final call.

If the protested call isn't overturned, the team loses a timeout. Coaches are very protective of their timeouts. If the protested call is upheld, no timeout is spent.

But now for those other four minutes -- two just before halftime and two before the end of the game: A coach goes ballistic. He still has a challenge coming to him. But now he must rely on the "replay official" upstairs (yes, he's baaack) or an official on field who actually wants some help from technology. Only then can a play during this time be reviewed.

Talk about splitting hairs. A bad call with 2:01 left in the half or the game, the coach (with a challenge available) is in control. A bad call with 1:59 left in the half of the game, he's not.

Overtime will be treated the same as the final two minutes of each half.

The intent here is to let the coaches coach during the final two minutes of each half. But if the system is good enough for 56 minutes, it's good enough for 60.

The last time instant replay was used in the NFL -- 1991 -- Sam Wyche was coaching the Cincinnati Bengals, Bruce Coslet was coaching the New York Jets and Bill Parcells was a studio analyst for NBC; Bill Belichick was in his first season as head coach of the original Cleveland Browns; John Robinson was in his final season as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams; Dick MacPherson was coaching the New England Patriots, Jerry Burns, the Minnesota Vikings, and Ray Handley, the New York Giants.

None of these coaches had the "challenge" system. But then again, today's coaches -- if this proposal is passed -- will have on-again/off-again availability to the challenge system. I'm not sure if that's progress.

But these are desperate times for NFL officiating. Owners, coaches, players and fans are sick and tired of blown calls going detected in our living rooms and undetected on the field.

So, it seems inevitable that instant replay will be back. The concession speech has already been written by Bengals President/GM Mike Brown, a longtime dissenter of instant replay and the lone dissenting vote on the eight-man competition committee, which includes Seattle's Mike Holmgren, Tampa Bay's Rich McKay, Dallas' Jerry Jones, Washington's Charley Casserly, Indianapolis' Bill Polian, Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher and Minnesota's Denny Green.

"I'm the lone holdout, but it looks like it's coming back," Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It turns our game into arguing over calls, and I thought we were done with that in eighth grade. "

"(But) they'll bring it back and there will be the same problems as there were before. It will take away from the flow of the game and it's a distraction."

But because of so many bad calls, such as those experienced by the Buffalo Bills last season, teams that previously voted against instant replay are expected to change their vote this time around, i.e., Buffalo, Tampa Bay and perhaps even the New York Giants.

The trend has been there for a couple of years now. Replay was readily defeated in '92 when 11 teams voted against it. The past two years, however it has been much closer -- 10 nays in '97, nine nays in '98.

There might not be even a handful of dissentes this time when instant replay goes to a vote, sometime early in the week.

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