The proposal for a sky judge in the NFL was withdrawn the day before the league’s virtual meeting May 28. While it won’t be introduced this season, former NFL vice president of officiating and current Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira believes it’s coming soon and that it will benefit the league once implemented.
Pereira was an officiating consultant for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), which introduced the sky judge to professional football in 2019. The sky judge is another member of the officiating crew who is in the press box and can correct calls on the field.
“I think that this is on the horizon. I think the Alliance of American Football, the AAF proved it could work,” Pereira said on Glenn Clark Radio May 22. “They were basically the first ones to come up with it and make it work.”
One of the issues the NFL needs to figure out is the breadth of responsibilities a sky judge would have. Pereira mentioned the AAF allowed sky judges to get involved with player safety fouls and pass interference. The key for Pereira is the sky judge’s ability to make quick calls that don’t slow the pace of the game like instant replay would.
“It all happens in between plays and if he sees a mistake has been made in a category that he is responsible for, then all he’s got to do is say to the referee, ‘Hey that was pass interference,’” Pereira said. “Put the ball at the 13-yard-line, make the announcement, let’s go.”
Last season, the NFL introduced coaches’ challenges for pass interference. This was largely in response to the controversial no-call in the 2018 NFC championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. There were 101 challenges, and only 24 were overturned. It seemed that officials, coaches and fans were unclear on how to interpret the rules.
Thus, coaches will not be allowed to challenge pass interference in 2020.
“We all go back to the championship game in New Orleans. This is what they were trying to achieve with replay that big miss,” Pereira said. “Well. it’s such a big miss because it was in the last two minutes of the game. If you go back to the first quarter there was an equal miss that wasn’t called. But does anyone talk about that? No, because it didn’t have the same impact in the game.”
In order to have enough sky judges, the NFL would need to hire 17 additional officials, which would lead to some inexperienced officials in the league. Pereira suggested a way to provide these new officials experience while also implementing a sky judge.
“I don’t think the sky judge just has to be in the booth,” Pereira said. “The three deep officials, their mechanics and responsibilities are so much the same, especially the field judge and side judge. So rotate them. … They could be in the booth maybe one time every three weeks. So you could all get on-field experience, and man, would you improve the performance of that guy that you’re bringing in.”
With 24 years of experience in the NFL, Pereira has noticed how the NFL tries to improve officiating. He does not believe the league has taken the most effective path toward that end.
“We just have to think outside the box,” Pereira said. “We tried to fix everything when it comes to officiating with band-aids. Instant replay became the first big hit when we came back in 1999 to try and change things. It’s 21 years later and it’s now time to use something other than a band-aid to make things better.”
While the sky judge will not be implemented this season, the NFL did pass three new rules:
- All scoring plays and turnovers negated by penalty will be automatically reviewed as well as two-point conversion attempts.
- Kickoff and punt returners will have an expanded defenseless player protection when they haven’t had time to avoid contact.
- Teams will no longer be able to commit multiple dead-ball penalties with a running clock. The New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans did this last season to take time off the clock in the fourth quarter of games they eventually won.
For more from Pereira, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox