NFL sets rules for video-board plays

Updated: August 28, 2009, 3:21 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Basically, it's a do-over in Dallas.

The NFL has ruled that the down will be replayed and clock will be reset if a football hits the massive video display board that hangs over the field at Cowboys Stadium.

Perhaps the key piece of the ruling, issued Friday morning, is that it is only for this season. The league can review it after the season.

By setting the video boards 90 feet above the field, the Cowboys cleared the current league standard by 5 feet. But this action indicates the 85-foot rule might be re-examined in the offseason, which could force the first major renovation to the $1.15 billion stadium.

This season, if the video board comes into play, the replay official will have the power to institute a booth review without a coach's challenge, even if it isn't in the final two minutes of a half. Coaches, however, can also throw a red flag to challenge on close plays.

[+] EnlargeDallas Scoreboard
Tim Heitman/US PresswireTitans punters knocked ball after ball off the Cowboys Stadium's video screens before -- and once during -- the venue's NFL debut last Saturday night.

"We will continue to address the particular circumstances in Dallas, giving full consideration to the competitive, safety and fan experience issues involved," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The Cowboys have been fully cooperative as we have addressed this subject, and we will continue to work closely with the club on a longer term resolution."

On his radio show, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he's pleased to have this settled. He also reiterated his stance that "I don't see it as ultimately an issue" because punts rarely are kicked that high down the middle of the field because teams prefer pinning returners closer to the sideline.

Still, he knows it will be talked about every game, from Saturday night's preseason game against San Francisco and throughout the regular season.

"You can anticipate the ball hitting the board from time to time," he said. "There's no reason why this can't be something [for punters] to deal with very similar to the way you'd deal with the wind in your face or with elements; rain, sleet or snow."

Tennessee punters knocked ball after ball off the screens before -- and once during -- the stadium's debut last Saturday night.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher is head of the NFL's competition committee, meaning his group worked with the league office to figure out how to handle balls conking off the boards.

Jones has been a staunch defender of the height of his boards for various reasons, including how much time and money it could cost to hike them. (They cost about $40 million to install.)

The boards are going higher to fit the stage for a U2 concert in October, but the screens will have to be disconnected. To lift the boards and keep them operable will require engineering and architectural adjustments.

Jones and Cowboys punter Mat McBriar say this has become a big issue only because Titans punters intentionally kicked high and down the middle to try hitting the boards.

McBriar has yet to hit the boards and he insists "no one has told me not to hit it." He definitely has the leg to reach it -- he topped 100 feet during a trial two years ago when Jones was deciding the height -- but always aims his kicks away from the center of the field.

"It looks lower than it is just because of the size of it," McBriar said.

Long-term changes can be made only at the annual rules meeting. However, Goodell noted that Rule 3, Section 1 of the league rulebook allows for new policy to be enacted for the current season only.

Fisher's complaint went beyond the height. He realized officials didn't even see the ball hitting the boards because they were all watching the action on the field; he threw his challenge flag to make sure they realized what had happened. The ruling was a do-over, but the clock was not reset.

The new rules -- which apply to all stadiums even though it's an issue only at this one -- address those concerns.

Downs will still be replayed "if a ball in play strikes a video board, guide wire, sky cam, or any other object," but now the game clock will be reset to the time when the first play was snapped. Any penalties during the wiped-out play won't count, except for personal fouls.

Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson was in the stadium Thursday.

"If there's anything wrong, it's that people are going to watch the video board and not the game," Johnson said. "It is so dominating, but I think it's so cool. I think it's great."

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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