Looming “top-down review” of officiating puts even more pressure on officiating

Mike Florio

It’s a good thing that the NFL intends to conduct a “top-down review” of officiating in the offseason. It’s not a good thing that we know about it.

The fact that the news has become public necessarily places more pressure on NFL officiating from the top, down.

It starts with senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron, who already is under enormous pressure both to supervise a beleaguered band of zebras and to make good decisions when exercising the critically important replay function. Replay review of pass interference has made his job even more difficult, adding a much more convoluted type of analysis to the mix, with subjective calls now subject to second-guessing through frame-by-frame analysis of available visual evidence.

Making his job even more difficult are the shifting sands of the actual standard to be applied for overturning calls and non-calls or pass interference. The bar started in one place, changed significantly when the regular season began, and more recently has adjusted to more closely align with the procedure that Riveron intended to apply before the season started: Literal application of the “clear and obvious” standard to whether significant hindrance occurred.

Now, with Riveron aware that a comprehensive review of his job (including, presumably, whether he should keep it) is coming — and with Riveron aware that everyone else is aware, too — he’s under even more pressure to perform in a manner that staves off the goring of his ox.

That pressure will trickle down to officiating supervisors and on-field officials. Even though the folks who work the games enjoy union protection, the threat/promise of dramatic changes to their job necessarily adds real pressure to do their jobs in a way that keeps them from being unchanged.

Maybe the extra pressure will create a diamond or two. Maybe it will burst a pipe, or three. Either way, one of the most important functions in all of football rides on the question of whether this shot across the bow will inadvertently cause the ship to run aground before the league can get it back on course.