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Expanded replay will be good for the game

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On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at: MurphyTakes5@packers.com.

The NFL held its annual meeting in Phoenix from March 24-27. Many important topics were discussed and voted on, but in my mind, the most significant discussions were related to the use of instant replay in the game. There were several replay proposals put forward by teams as well as the Competition Committee. In addition, the head coaches were strongly in favor of expanding replay, and proposed that an eighth official serve as a “sky judge.”

For years, the philosophy behind replay in the league has been that it should be used to correct clear mistakes based on objective facts (e.g., the ball hit the ground, the runner stepped out of bounds). This has served the league well, and any move beyond this to review judgment calls has to be well thought out and narrow. In reviewing information regarding the impact of penalties on the outcome of games, it was clear that defensive and offensive pass interference had the biggest impact. For this reason, the Competition Committee proposed that replay would be expanded to include pass interference, but for one year only. Initially, the rule would not have allowed the replay official to put a flag on the field (a coach could not throw the challenge flag and say that pass interference should have been called). Putting a flag on the field was a difficult issue, but it was eventually added to make sure that we addressed the mistake in the NFC Championship Game and to help ensure that the proposed rule would pass. Another sticking point was related to challenges in the last two minutes. The concern here related to Hail Marys at the end of the game. We were concerned that all games would end with coaches throwing challenge flags. So, the rule proposal was changed to not allow any coaches’ challenges in the last two minutes (as has been the case in the past).

Although there will likely be a transition period as officials and coaches adjust to the new rule, I think that expanded replay will be good for the game. I thought the process worked very well. The coaches’ concerns were heard (Jason Garrett and John Harbaugh were especially persuasive), compromises were made, but we kept the current replay system intact.

Now, on to your questions…

Katie from Chicago

I was excited to see that the Packers will be coming to Chicago to kick off the season. Will there be any special plans for the game?

I was also excited and pleased to learn that we will play in the NFL Kickoff game in Chicago on Sept. 5. Normally, the Super Bowl champion hosts the opening game. The league last year made an exception to this policy for the 2019 season because it is the league’s 100th season. I thought there was a good chance we would play in the game (and it had been speculated in the media), but it was still great to have it confirmed. The league normally has a number of events planned for the days prior to the Kickoff game. For this year, though, as part of the NFL 100 celebration, there will be even more events. There will be a concert and other events in Grant Park, similar to the events that were held there when the NFL Draft was in Chicago. We will also have a pep rally on Sept. 4. Check packers.com for the details. It is a great way to start the league’s 100th season – with the two teams in the league’s longest rivalry playing each other. It will be the 199th game between the Packers and Bears.

Jim from Kenosha, WI

I am sick of seeing NFL teams win games in overtime with the other team never getting the ball. Why did the owners not support the rule that would have required each team to have one possession?

Great question, Jim. As you recall, a similar issue arose several years ago with teams winning games with field goals on the first possession of overtime. The rule was changed so that the other team would get a possession if the team made a field goal on its first possession (but not if they scored a touchdown). I think the proposed rule failed for a number of reasons. First, the statistics show that the team possessing the ball first doesn’t have a big advantage. They only win 52% of the games. Also, we recently reduced overtime to 10 minutes. If we changed the rule, games would be longer and we would have to increase overtime back to 15 minutes. This creates injury concerns as well as competitive equity concerns (e.g., if you play a full 15-minute OT on Sunday and then play on Thursday). Lastly (and I know I am showing my background as a defensive player here), if you can’t stop the team from scoring a touchdown in the first possession of overtime, you don’t deserve to win.

Clara from Chippewa Falls, WI

I look forward to seeing you on the Tailgate Tour next week. Where is the event being held in Chippewa Falls?

Thanks, Clara. I look forward to seeing you in Chippewa Falls. We’ll be in town on Friday, April 12. The event will be held at the Leinie Lodge (appropriately) and will benefit Chippewa River Industries. This will be our 14th Tailgate Tour. I love the Tailgate Tours – they provide a great way to interact with fans as well as spend quality time (a lot of time on the bus) with current players and alumni. To me, the Tailgate Tour highlights the uniqueness of the Packers organization. The main purpose of the tour is to thank our fans while raising money for charities in the towns we visit. This year’s tour will be a little different in that it will be all alumni (Nick Barnett, Earl Dotson, Ryan Grant, Bernardo Harris, Aaron Kampman and Scott Wells) and no current players. With a new head coach this year, we will be starting our offseason program earlier (the day before the start of the Tailgate Tour). The dates of the Tour had been set long ago, and we didn’t want to change the dates or have three of our current players miss the start of offseason workouts.

A question from Ben

Hi Mark, I enjoy your monthly column and appreciate your viewpoints. Last season, the Packers had a stretch of cross-country away games and the Thursday night game. It seemed that some of our notable players sustained injuries towards the end of that time frame. Are there any league studies to examine minimizing competitive disadvantages that may occur due to traveling and scheduling? I'd be curious whether Thursday home teams typically win more often than expected. With the new impetus to schedule headline teams on Thursday night games, it seems that some teams' travel demands may become more taxing. Any other insights you can share about the league maximizing fair competition and minimizing unintended or unfair advantages? Thank you!

You make an important point, Ben, and this is something the league monitors closely. The league tries to ensure that players aren’t at a higher risk of injury because of the schedule and also doesn’t want to put teams at a competitive disadvantage. As you note, last year we played at LA, at New England and at Seattle over a four-week period (and the Seattle game was a Thursday night game). For short-week games, the league does have a policy that teams cannot travel through three time zones (no coast-to-coast trips). Our trip to Seattle was long (we flew out on Tuesday, though), but we only traveled through two time zones. The league has studied the records of teams traveling through three time zones for games played with a full week to prepare, and found that the home team does not have a significant advantage. The league has also studied Thursday games generally and determined that there is not a significant increase in injuries (to players on both teams) and that the home team doesn’t have a significant competitive advantage. Obviously, our schedule last year was not ideal (we did have a bye before the Rams game, though), but it is very challenging for the league to put together a schedule that is completely fair and balanced. Over time, I do think that any inequities will balance out.

Bill from Carthage, NY

I see that the NFL is celebrating its 100th season this year. What special events does the league have planned?

The NFL is calling its celebration of its 100th season “NFL 100.” I think it may be a little confusing for our fans, though. Our first season was 1919 (and we celebrated our 100th season last year), and the league’s first season was 1920, but we didn’t join the league until 1921. To answer your question, though, Bill, the league will have many events to celebrate the 100th season. The celebration really started at the Super Bowl in February in Atlanta when they unveiled the NFL 100 commercial. The celebration will continue in Nashville with the NFL Draft, with numerous events planned there. Throughout the year, some of the promotions planned include the naming of the top 100 players in NFL history, the greatest play in league history (I would vote for Bart Starr’s QB sneak in the Ice Bowl) and the NFL Huddle for 100 (to encourage 1 million people to volunteer for 100 hours). The league will also have a special promotion where one fan will win two season tickets for 100 years. There will also be celebrations in the original cities, including in Racine, home of the Cardinals in 1920. As mentioned above, the league will hold several events in Chicago’s Grant Park prior to the opening game against the Bears. During the season, every team will have a Fantennial Weekend with celebrations around high school games on Friday night and alumni events on Saturday and Sunday. Each week there will be the NFL 100 game of the week highlighting great rivalries throughout the season. Finally, the league will celebrate its 100th birthday on Sept. 17, 2020, in Canton. It should be a very exciting year of celebrations for the league.

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