- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When the owners of the NFL’s 32 teams get together for their annual meetings next week, chatting and deliberating against the backdrop of a swanky resort on the outskirts of Phoenix, a few potential rules changes will be on the docket.

Some of these come at the behest of the league’s competition committee which, among other suggestions, will recommend hiring full-time officials before the start of the 2017 season, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.

Referees are currently part-time employees, most of whom have other jobs. The NFL has had the authority to hire up to 17 full-time officials since it collectively bargained the right to do so in 2012 with the NFL Referees Association, but hasn’t for a number of reasons. Cost is one, as is the worry of losing good referees who might not want to leave their other careers.

Back in December, after Saints coach Sean Payton went on a mini-rant about part-time referees hurting the game, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said that the issue was being discussed “daily” in his office and that those discussions had led him to believe that the league should make those 17 hires this offseason.

At the time, however, that was news to the referees association.

“Like so many things, the devil is in the details and we have yet to hear from the league on those details,” NFLRA executive director Scott Green said in a statement. “We look forward to meeting with them to discuss numerous issues, this being one of them.”

Green said that the NFLRA had agreed in the 2012 CBA that it would support full-time officials “under certain circumstances including equitable compensation, benefits, clearly documented work duties, employee protections, etc.”

Green said that ironing out those details should be part of an off season discussion. Now, it seems that discussion may be happening soon.

Along with referee contracts, some of the rules they make calls on will also be up for debate.

Seifert reported that the competition committee will also recommend that referees be given the leeway to warn players before issuing excessive celebration penalties. This isn’t a formal rule proposal, but it could be a directive intended to allow for fun, spontaneous celebrations as long as they are not profane or truly excessive.

Excessive celebration penalties tend to get a lot of attention because they can seem silly, and the league looks boring and harsh when players are penalized for “shooting a bow and arrow” or “dancing in the end zone.” In reality, there were only 30 such penalties called last season.

The Philadelphia Eagles are recommending a change that would prohibit players from jumping over the line of scrimmage to block field goals. As it stands, players are allowed to jump over the line as long as they do not come into contact with any of the players they are jumping over.

This issue came up last year, as well, because the officials wanted to get rid of it, but the move was ultimately kept legal.

This year, however, Cardinals coach and competition committee member Bruce Arians, among others, said it might be time to change. Arians saw the play first-hand when Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner lept over the Cardinals field goal blocking unit in a game this past October, one that infamously ended in a 6-6 tie.

“It cannot be officiated,” Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio days after the game. “Whether he touches, whether it was leverage, was his foot within the framework of the defensive lineman’s feet before he jumped, all those things that go into that call, I think it’s bad for football.

“Because what you’re going to have to do now is start having centers raise their face up and get kicked in the face and things that are just dangerous to the players. I think it’s a dangerous play as it is and should be taken out of the game.”

The NFLPA doesn’t like the play because of its dangers, and the NFLRA doesn’t like it because it can force referees into tough calls. The rule says that the jumping player can’t make contact, but NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino has said in the past that “incidental contact” on the play can be inevitable and therefore is legal. The trouble is in deciding at what point a cleat brushing a shoulder becomes a kick in the face.

These won’t be the only items discussed: using the NFL’s officiating department at the league offices in New York to conduct video replay reviews, issuing automatic suspensions for certain hits, shortening preseason and regular season overtimes to 10 minutes and, oh that’s right, the Raiders potential move to Las Vegas should also come up, according to The Washington Post’s Mark Maske and NFL Network.

Meetings begin Sunday at the Biltmore in Arizona. At least 24 teams are needed to approve of any rule change or relocation.

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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