By Matt Popchock
When the Pittsburgh Power line up against the Orlando Predators to begin their second season in the Arena Football League, they’ll have some extra company in the Amway Center (to say nothing of the home team’s notoriously passionate fans).
On Monday the league agreed to increase the size of its officiating crews for all regular season and playoff games from five to six. Following a successful experiment with six-man crews during last year’s playoffs, executives have decided that, moving forward, each crew will consist of an extra back judge, in addition to one referee, one umpire, one line judge, and one side judge.
But perhaps the more significant rule enhancement of the day was the AFL’s decision to expand the use of video replay.
Previously, replay was only made available during games broadcast on NFL Network, and all playoff contests. However, a replay system mirroring that of the NFL will apply to all future games.
Each team will be allocated two challenges they can use, as long as they have at least one timeout remaining. If both challenges are expended and won, a third challenge will be awarded.
I believe one of the league’s biggest credibility issues last year was its officiating. Honestly, watching certain games gave me the impression that some of the officials were literally making up rules as they went along, and the Power certainly weren’t the only ones getting jobbed from time to time. I can recall one mid-season game in particular that featured a number of egregious “scoring” plays–in which ball carriers were clearly down before the ball touched the plane of the goal line–that affected both teams.
Increasing the size, and thereby, the accountability, of crews will help, and making instant replay universally accessible will do the same. Frankly, I see no reason why it only should have been exclusive to nationally televised games, nor do I see any reason why such fiascoes as the one I described above should take place again.
Although, if the league really wants to improve its standard of enforcement, the best way to do it might be to ramp up its recruiting efforts toward prospective AFL officials, just like certain coaches have done for prospective players.
Power head coach Chris Siegfried was asked to address one very controversial call after a game last season, and he said that other leagues are an x-factor. Sometimes one of the best players in the AFL will matriculate to the NFL, which dilutes the talent pool. Similarly, the NFL will sometimes seek the AFL’s most competent officials.
In addition, some of the AFL’s officials come from other football leagues, and learning the differences in the AFL rule book is not easy. So it’s up to the league to make sure these folks are well informed and educated in the first place.
In the meantime, though, the league is doing the right thing.
The Power will play their first home game of the season Fri., Mar. 23, when the Philadelphia Soul come to town for an 8:00 P.M. kickoff. The 2012 regular season will feature nine games at CONSOL Energy Center, as well as expanded television coverage:
Click here for more information, including a full TV schedule.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)