John Harbaugh Defended Ravens' Rule Proposals


John Harbaugh drew a crowd Tuesday morning.

With the NFL owners set to vote on 19 rule proposals Wednesday morning, the Ravens head coach had a few dozen reporters gathered around him during the AFC coaches breakfast in Boca Raton, Fla. Harbaugh took a strong position to explain and defend a pair of changes Baltimore has brought to the table, and he stressed on multiple occasions that the NFL needs to catch up with the technology that is available.

Baltimore made a proposal to expand the use of instant replay and another to help clean up the eligible/ineligible receiver rule confusion that has cost the Ravens in recent years.

Below is a breakdown of the rules and Harbaugh's explanation for how the changes would improve the game.

Expansion of Instant Replay

In the current rule book, coaches have the ability to challenge a certain group of plays. The rules detail 33 types of plays that a coach can challenge, and the league has continued to add items to that list in recent years.

Instead of tacking more reviewable plays onto that list, the Ravens want to change the rule to allow coaches to challenge every play, except eight specific instances that are considered judgement calls.

"Everything is reviewable expect the judgement calls," Harbaugh said. "It's real simple. And we have high hopes for it.

"The technology is there. The fans live in replay. The fans live on their devices. This is where they watch the game [holding up mobile phone]. This is the beauty of where we're at in 2016. This is not 1999 when replay first came in. We need to acknowledge that our fans live in replay.  So hey man, let's make it simple for the fans, make it simple for people understand what's reviewable."

In order clearly explain what falls in the "judgement call" category, the Ravens detailed eight types of plays that would not be reviewable:

(1) Offensive or. defensive holding

(2) Offensive or defensive pass interference

(3) Illegal contact

(4) Illegal use of hands

(5) Whether a forward passer has been forcibly contacted

(6) Whether a defenseless receiver has been forcibly contacted

(7) Whether a kicker has been forcibly contacted

(8) Unsportsmanlike conduct

Harbaugh also said that he'd be open to including facemask calls as penalties that can't be challenged.

"Our proposal solves a lot of problems. It cleans up a lot of things," Harbaugh said. "Right now there are 33 definitions or notes in the rule book about what is reviewable. At some point in time, that balance is going to outweigh anybody's ability to understand it. Fans don't understand it. Color commentators don't understand it. The ex-referees that do that expert analysis struggle with it. That really doesn't need to be the case. We're trying to get new fans all across the globe, and our rules need to be understandable. And the technology has out-paced the rule book right now.

"Our rule is just a simplification. It makes it easier for the fans. It makes it easier for the officials, for the coaches. Instead of 33 definitions and notes, there are eight. We're saying what's not reviewable."

If Baltimore's proposal passed, a significant change is that some penalties would now be put under review, including unnecessary roughness calls for hits to the head. Harbaugh emphasized that having the ability to review head shots is a way to make the game safer as the league tries to crack down on concussion-inducing plays.

"Anything safety related, especially hits to the head, should be in replay," Harbaugh said. "The official should be free to throw that flag to protect that player, knowing that if he misses it and gets it wrong in real time, the coach will red flag it and he'll pull it off. To me, that will make the player's safer as well."

The idea of expanding instant replay has been brought up in previous years. The Patriots previously proposed a rule to make every play reviewable, without exception, but the owners voted against it. Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay said during Monday's press conference that the committee does not like the idea of making every single play reviewable.

"As a committee, we've always been concerned about if you are going to begin to get into the business of looking at penalties and whether you could actually put a penalty on through replay or whether you could challenge a penalty," McKay said.

Baltimore's proposal does address McKay's concern because it leaves judgement calls out of the equation and allows those penalties to continue to be called by the officials at real speed.

As some reporters questioned Harbaugh about the likelihood of the rule change getting approved by the ownership this week, his message was that it's only a matter of time for the league to get on board.

"It will pass eventually," Harbaugh said. "There's no question that replay is going to pass eventually."

Eligible/Ineligible Receiver Rule

The proposal from the Ravens would allow an offensive player wearing the number of an ineligible receiver (Nos. 50-79, and 90-99) to line up in the position of an eligible receiver if the player enters the field wearing a jersey vest (like a practice pinnie) with an appropriate number (1-49, 80-89) for his eligible status.

This idea has led to some criticism in the media, and the NFL's Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino expressed concern about it during Monday's press conference.

"It does just create some logistical challenges because there are times when the player is already in the game and then is going to report," Blandino said. "So, what happens then? Does the vest get brought out? There's some logistical challenges to that rule."

Harbaugh fought back on that notion Tuesday, pointing out that the current rules of making an ineligible player declare himself as eligible are much more logistically complicated than throwing on an additional jersey vest.

"I think if you compare the logistical issues that Nike would have with building a stretch pinnie that could be easily pulled on and pulled off, compared to what we have right now logistically, what they have to deal with – the hoops that the referee has to jump through to establish who's eligible and who's not eligible – it's really no comparison," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens proposed this change after getting caught on the wrong side of the eligible receiver rule in recent years. The most notable example was in the 2014 divisional-round matchup with the Patriots where there was confusion over which players the officials made eligible. The problem came up again last year when the officials penalized offensive lineman John Urschel for catching a pass because they missed him clearly declaring himself as eligible.

"The whole idea is to simplify this for the fans and for the officials," Harbaugh said. "It has nothing to do with what play happened when, to who, or whatever. Everybody wants to bring up New England and say we're reacting to that. We're not reacting to that. It's simplicity for the fans and for the officials. The officials have struggled with this multi-layered, complex who's eligible rule for decades. The numbers were put in place for a reason."

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