Barely more than two weeks ago, the NFL turned its replay procedure on its head. The man at the center of that prominent shake-up of the three-decades-old system is suddenly out of the picture.
For now — now being Friday, the day Dean Blandino left, reportedly for a TV gig — the new replay plan is still in place. Even though, according to one report, it was structured with Blandino, the senior vice president of officiating, in mind.
Member of #NFL Competition Committee, which created replay rules, tells me support was specific trust in Dean Blandino, more than his office
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 14, 2017
So this might mean a lot more to the NFL than just switching Blandino out for someone else, more than just a different person in the centralized replay center in New York, putting a different set of eyes on six or seven games at one time on Sunday. Or, to intensify the spotlight, on one game on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights with the entire country watching.
This was the latest stab by the NFL to fix replay and, by extension, fix officiating.
Blandino served as the league’s human shield week after week for four years. He was going to take even more of a public mauling with this seismic shift, this next step in the evolution of getting the call right in the moment, justifying it afterward, altering the rulebook in the aftermath the next offseason, and pushing all the officials toward getting the calls right next time around.
Blandino seemed ready for it. Before the league meetings last month and when they wrapped up, he answered questions about his role and how he and the replay headquarters would handle it. In the closing press conference in Phoenix, he talked about how he and two others under him have handled the workload when they were merely guiding referees through reviews, and how they would handle it next year when they began making the actual decisions.
"We had a good year last year with the three people in the room feeling out that early window on Sunday,"Blandino said. “If there are up to three challenges going on at once we can manage that. It would be a very rare instance where they would all be initiated at the same moment and have a fourth where you couldn’t get to it.’’
The league was ready to march forward with this bold change. But if they were banking on Blandino to carry most of the weight — even with help on game days — are they still ready to march on without him?
The regular season kicks off in just under five months, preseason games in four months, training camp in three months … and minicamps next month. The offseason is when teams, players and coaches get schooled and acclimated to new rules, new emphasis and new procedures. New, like somebody off-site reviewing replay.
The NFL had a tight window to get this right. On their side was the presence of someone who, for better or worse, was used to being the face of accountability and transparency. Who has had to live with more than a year of “Dez caught it” as well as multiple versions of “The ref was standing right there” and “If that was A-Rod instead of Cam, that would’ve been a flag” and “Do these guys even know the rules?”
Now, Blandino isn’t there, either to personally implement a new system apparently built around him, or for the fan base to kick around.
Speculating on whose booth Blandino lands in is fun. Who replaces Blandino in front of the NFL replay monitors — or if they replace something in the replay system besides him — affects the game much, much more.