Games might not be quicker in 2017. But they will flow better and be more standardized.
"It is part of an initiative to really reduce downtime," NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said on a conference call with media Thursday afternoon. "We're not looking to impact the play on the field -- but to reduce the in-game downtime."
Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned some of the methods by which this would happen in an open letter to fans Wednesday, but Blandino got into the nitty-gritty of these proposals Thursday on the NFL Competition Committee's conference call.
"If we can reduce downtime, then the overall game length will take care of itself," Blandino said. "Our games averaged just over three hours and seven minutes; that was down from the number in 2015.
"So I think we expect that there will be a reduction in game time based on some of these changes, but the focus is in-game downtime, being more efficient and just the entire game experience -- whether it's in the stadium or watching at home on TV."
Part the pace-of-play changes involves altering halftime -- which actually means time will be added to it, at least on the scoreboard clock.
The proposal involves increasing the clock time from 12 minutes to 13 minutes, 30 seconds. However, the halftime clock would start immediately, which is a departure from current practice, in which a buffer was given before and after the 12 minutes on the clock. The buffer allowed for adjustment to each stadium, with varying distances from the sideline to the locker room, and could also allow for some stretching if a halftime show went long.
"Halftime is currently 12 minutes, but there are built-in delay times that involve teams getting to the locker room, the infrastructure of our stadiums and how they're configured. We're going to eliminate all of those discretionary periods of time and just have a clock [that reads] 13 minutes and 30 seconds, and at the end of that period, the ball will be made ready for play for the second-half kickoff," Blandino said.
Blandino also said that the clock-start time after a ballcarrier goes out of bounds during all but the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the fourth quarter will be standardized.
"In those instances, the clock will stop for a period of time, and then the referee will wind it when the ball is made ready for play," Blandino said. "We'll standardize that, which we feel will improve the pace of the game."
The game referee will also be able to announce instant-replay rulings while the game broadcast is at a commercial. In previous years, the official had to wait until the network returned from its break before announcing the call via the public-address system.
"We feel like that will improve the in-game, in-stadium experience for the fans and reduce some of the overall replay delay," Blandino said.
The league will also introduce a 40-second clock after an extra point when there isn't a television break before the ensuing kickoff. After 40 seconds, the ball on the kicking tee will be ruled ready for play.
"That is a period of time where we can be more efficient and get teams out for the kickoff," Blandino said.
Other notes from the conference call:
- AN END TO THE "LEAPER"?**
Justin Simmons' game-winning leap over the Saints' line to block an extra-point attempt was the most dramatic moment of the Broncos' 2016 season -- and will not be legal in 2017 if a proposal initially made by the Eagles passes.
The rules change would involve banning any leaps over the line of scrimmage by players on the team defending a placekick.
"Whenever we see a technique in our game -- athletic or non-athletic -- that is a danger to the player, then we as a league try to respond by eliminating that danger," said Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay.
The NFL Players Association also favored banning the leaping play, McKay said, "given what they felt like was a danger to the leaper and the risk of injury."
2. SAFETY ALSO AT THE HEART OF OVERTIME PROPOSAL
"It's simply a player-safety issue," McKay said of the idea to reduce preseason and regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10. "We had a couple of games this year that went the full length ... and I think we looked at the number of snaps and felt like it was excessive.
Short preparation time for the subsequent game -- specifically, on Thursday nights -- is another factor driving the proposal to cut overtime.
"What concerns us is that we don't know when the team is going to play next week after this; it could be four days later," McKay said. "Accordingly, we just felt like we should put an end to it."
McKay added that the increased chances of games ending in ties was not a reason to avoid trimming overtime.
"We don't think it will lead to more ties. Could it? It could. Are we concerned about that? No," he said. "I think we're more concerned about player safety."
3. EVALUATING CHANGES AFTER ONE YEAR
Last year's 5-yard move of the touchback spot following kickoffs to the 25-yard line yielded positive results, Blandino said. Teams returned just 39.3 percent of kickoffs last year, the lowest rate in NFL history.
But the rule will not be made permanent just yet; the Competition Committee has proposed another one-year trial to double the amount of data used to analyze the success of the rule change.
The committee did propose to turn the one-year experiment mandating ejection after two unsportsmanlike penalties in a single game into a permanent rule. Three players were ejected last season as a result of that rule.
4. ANOTHER TYPE OF "DEFENSELESS PLAYER"
Another committee proposal involved expanding the definition of players protected under "defenseless player" regulations to include receivers running their routes.
"We looked at a lot of video of receivers who were really in a defenseless posture -- [where] they were tracking the quarterback looking back for the ball and were contacted in the head or neck area forcibly by a defender," Blandino said.
This would include being within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Contact by the defender in that zone would still be allowed, but if that contact was in the head or neck area, it would be subject to a 15-yard penalty.
5. REPLAY PROPOSALS
The most likely proposal to pass is the committee's proposal to move final-say authority over instant-replay decisions to a centralized office where all challenges are monitored -- similar to the format that exists in Major League Baseball. However, Blandino said that replay decisions would be made "with input" from the game referee, who would communicate with staff at the league office during reviews.
"I think that's important to remember: We're not taking the referee out of the equation," Blandino said. "The referee will still be involved. The referee will still be able to give input, but will no longer have the final say."
Under that proposal, a referee will no longer go "under the hood" after running to a sideline monitor located in a fixed position. Instead, the official will receive a tablet with a headset on the sideline -- but in an area close to where the referee originally stood on the field. That tweak is also in response to the pace-of-play issues.
The Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks made a joint proposal to expand the types of plays that could be challenged to include all officials' calls. Washington proposed increasing the number of challenges per game. Neither is likely to pass, but team representatives will discuss both proposals.