Coaches to get third challenge if first two successful

Updated: March 30, 2004, 7:47 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As expected, instant replay as an officiating aid will be around for another five seasons.

NFL owners voted 29-3 Tuesday in favor of retaining the system, with one amendment: If a team is successful on its first two challenges, it will get a third.

Also Tuesday, it was announced that a federal appeals court will hear the NFL's appeal of the ruling allowing Ohio State sophomore Maurice Clarett, other underclassmen and high school players into the draft.

League counsel Jeff Pash said that if the court rules in the NFL's favor before the April 24-25 draft, Clarett, Southern California sophomore Mike Williams and seven others would not be included. If the NFL subsequently loses the appeal, there will be a supplemental draft for those players within 10 days of the court decision. Under the instant replay rule in effect for the past three seasons, a coach had only two challenges. If they were used up during the first half, coaches had no options if they didn't like a call made on the field.

Only once last season did a team have two successful challenges: the Carolina Panthers.

The Competition Committee recommended the third challenge so that coaches would be more liberal in challenging calls early in game. Committee co-chairman Rich McKay said the extra challenge wouldn't add a significant amount of time to games because members thought it wouldn't happen much.

The only downside for replay supporters is that they didn't get replay into the rules permanently.

The owners were given several proposals on instant replay, including one that would have made it permanent. They chose to go with the five-year option and the extra challenge.

"I think it's time for voting on it permanently," McKay said. "This rule has been tried and tested in our minds. I think we should be a league of permanent rules."

The committee's plan was to vote replay in permanently so if any "tweaks" in the system were needed, they could make them without fear of having replay eliminated from the game.

Replay officiating was in the final year of a three-year resolution.

"Some people were still concerned about replay," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said about not instituting it permanently. "And there were many, including myself, who felt that putting it in for five years rather than permanently would provide an incentive for the officiating department and the league office to continue to find ways to improve it."

The Colts, Bengals and Chiefs were the three teams that voted against replay. Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who voted against replay for the past nine years, changed his vote in favor of keeping replay.

"I was against replay for nine years, but now I think replay is okay," Wilson said.

Twenty-four votes were needed from the 32 teams to keep it. That was another reason, Tagliabue said, why some teams were reluctant to put it in permanently -- if that were done, it would require 24 votes to get it out.

Several other rules changes were to be voted on Tuesday or Wednesday.

On Tuesday:

  • The owners renewed the NFL Trust, which provides $4 million per team in licensing revenue for shirts, hats and other products with team logos. But Tagliabue agreed to appoint a nine-member committee to look at all aspects of revenue sharing in the face of questions from several teams, led by Washington, Dallas and Miami.

  • Tagliabue said he was receptive to a contract extension beyond May 2005, when his current contract expires. However, the commissioner, who will turn 64 in November, added: "I don't want to work forever."

  • The owners heard more on the proposal to build a new stadium for the New York Jets on the West Side of Manhattan. Tagliabue said there would be further discussion on the stadium, perhaps even on Wednesday, but emphasized there had been no commitment by the league for a future Super Bowl there.

    As for the NFL Trust, Washington's Daniel Snyder and Dallas' Jerry Jones want to market their own products without cutting in others, although neither has indicated opposition to the trust. They do seek modifications, though.

    That concerns small-market owners.

    "I can't see why we're talking about selling a few more bobblehead dolls in Buffalo," Wilson said. "And I wonder how many Cowboy hats Jerry is going to sell there. There's a far more fundamental issue: the money disparity that will end up making it a league of haves and have-nots."

    As for other changes, adjusting overtime rules to allow both teams a possession is unlikely to be approved. The competition committee doesn't favor it.

    The committee also recommended instituting 15-yard penalties for choreographed celebrations and suggested some minor changes to the fair catch rule that will eliminate any returns by the receiving team once the signal is made.

    An expansion of the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams won't be on the agenda after Kansas City withdrew the proposal. Although many coaches said they favor the idea, the Chiefs felt there wasn't enough support among the owners, and the competition committee was strongly opposed.

    Concern about the disparity in cash flow between the 32 teams has been a main topic of the meetings. Wilson, Steelers owner Dan Rooney and Indianapolis' Jimmy Irsay expressed their concerns Monday.

    "With our stadium and ticket pricing and market, we are 32nd out of 32," said Irsay, who went into his own pocket to pay a record $34.5 million signing bonus to quarterback Peyton Manning, last season's co-MVP. "There has to be some way to create a shift there, and it's the issue in the NFL right now, revenue sharing."

    Information from ESPN.com's John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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