By: Barry Barnes
In the 1980 AFC Championship game, the then – Houston Oilers, now Tennessee Titans, had everything working in their favor against the Pittsburgh Steelers until the controversial call of an incomplete pass by Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini to wide receiver Mike Renfro, when Renfro apparently caught the touchdown pass. The controversial call cost the Oilers a trip to the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the use of instant replay was not instituted in the NFL, and Dean Blandino, NFL Vice President of Officiating, at that time was in elementary school.
Well, Blandino is all grown up now and instant replay is a part of the league, but questionable decision-making by the officials continues to haunt the game. Entering the 2014 Officiating Clinic in Dallas, the NFL implemented a plan to assist the 119 officials, and Blandino will keep a watchful eye on questionable plays to eliminate the spookiness on the field.
“I’m very excited to become a part of the replay process this season,” said Blandino. “My background is in replay and I was a replay official for four years so to be able to consult with our referees during reviews is something I am very much looking forward to.”
This season, NFL officials will have an ally for challenged calls as they will be reviewed from the command center in New York. The proposed Rule 9, a ruling to allow all challenged calls to be reviewed from a location in New York, was approved by the NFL owners in March during the league meetings. At the helm, Blandino will be front and center to whistle advice to the referees.
The NFL is the biggest boy on the block in American sports and as their product continues to evolve on the field, among the players, the officials must be equipped to keep pace with game. Technology is the key to assist the officials, but if it is not utilized effectively, the biggest boy on the block will thin out to the likes of MLB and the NHL as they utilize a centralized location to assist their referees in questionable calls.
Blandino and the NFL implemented measures to help keep their integrity intact and their product on top.
“To me. the advancements in technology have been the most impactful changes in officiating during my career,” said Blandino. “The implementation of instant replay along with the digital distribution of video to evaluate and train game officials has been critical to our success. Every year we see new enhancements that make our game even better.”
Nevertheless, before the first snap and ‘hut-hut’ is shouted out, the officials are summoned to Dallas for the final tune up to discuss rules, take tests, set goals and advance in their craft for the betterment of the league.
The next six months will be intense and there will be obstacles the officials will be force to handle as players and coaches will push the envelope. It is clear that the officials must be on the same page.
“Our departmental goals are to achieve consistent officiating through increased clarity of the rules and mechanics,” said Blandino. “At our clinic in Dallas we are going to focus on mastering the fundamentals of officiating. We want all of our game officials to be on the same page when they leave.”
Blandino is passionate about officiating and his dedication to the craft is unmatched. After having a conversation with the New York native, one would think he threw the yellow flag for years. Unlike Art McNally, Jerry Seeman, Mike Pereira and Carl Johnson,who all were former officials, Blandino has never officiated a game, on any level before becoming the NFL Vice President of Officiating.
Clearly, Blandino’s credibility is unquestioned as he put in countless hours of studying and reviewing game videos and placed himself
in the right position for many doors to be open for him, which directed him to his current position he earned last year.
“He just happened to have the right analytical skills, the processing skills,” said former NFL referee and now director of officiating for the Big Ten Conference Bill Carollo, according Jeffrey Stern of MyReferee.com. “He learned the old-fashioned way, with a lot of hard work.”
Now, the hard work before Blandino is to empower and lessen the scrutiny the officials confront each year. This is a challenge
Blandino is looking forward to handling.
“Officiating will always be under scrutiny, and as popular as the NFL is, it is only natural that our game officials are under an intense microscope. That’s the challenge that makes it so rewarding,” said Blandino.
There were at least 11 critical questionable situations that the officials missed judged on last season. Some way or another,
costly decision-making can altar a team’s season. Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss stated last season, “It’s
(officiating) probably been worse this whole year as a total. Not just this team, but I’ve watched a lot of football this year, it’s been the worst that I’ve ever seen.”
The Clinic the officials are attending will set the stage for a better season than last year. All the miscues of the 2013 season will be reviewed for better interpretation and hypothetical situations will be discuss because plays on the field are unpredictable.
The name of the game for the officials is consistency, in getting the calls correct. Instant replay is essential to the game, but before any review, the actions and decision-making of the officials must be on point. Blandino is aggressive in the officiating training and he has a scope of the big picture, in terms of the next generation of officials.
Blandino and his staff developed several programs for officials to improve their awareness of officiating and reached out to potential candidates who want to wear the white and black cap of the NFL. Blandino is not waiting for game day to blow the whistle, he’s blowing the whistle now to make it a better called contest tomorrow.
“Our game officials are evaluated on every play of every game,” said Blandino. “The ultimate goal is consistency. They receive weekly position and points of emphasis videos. We also have implemented a Performance and Wellness program that is designed to help our officials achieve their maximum potential.”
“Potential NFL candidates take part in our Advanced Development Program that allows them to take part in NFL mini-camps, training camps, and officiate preseason games,” he continued. “Before this program, collegiate officials never had the opportunity to get actual NFL snaps. This will reduce the learning curve when they enter the League for real.”< /p>
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