NEW YORK (AP) — Alberto Riveron has a difficult challenge, and he’s taking it on at a pivotal time in the NFL.
Riveron has stepped in this year as the league’s chief of officiating, replacing Dean Blandino, who joined his predecessor, Mike Pereira, as an analyst at Fox. Both Blandino and Pereira have been lauded for their skills in communicating and explaining officiating calls, something they carried into television from their positions at the NFL.
Riveron plans to continue the transparency — Blandino was a regular on Monday talk shows and on social media, breaking down plays from the previous day — as he directs a staff that now will include 21 full-time officials. He worked as Blandino’s main assistant before moving up, so the adjustment hasn’t been overwhelming in any way.
But there are differences.
“I was not as in tune with internal workings like I am now,” the 57-year-old Riveron says. “I was involved in the officiating, the evaluating and the developing of the officiating program. I now basically overlook the entire department. That means working with other departments like broadcasting, marketing, strategy, a lot more than I was before. My job and my goal is to be consistent and to get it right.”
Fans often believe game officials get it wrong too often, though Troy Vincent, who runs the league’s football operations, cites the extremely high percentage of correct calls. Vincent is emphatic when describing a smooth transition for Riveron.
“Al has always been in AMGC (Art McNally GameDay Central, where video reviews are made) the past four to five years,” Vincent explains. “Al and Dean were the ones in AMGC making the calls, collaborating with the referees and those they had been handling with stadium instant replay, and dealing with the (TV) trucks over the last three to four years. We look at succession planning all the time, seeing is there a better setup?”
The new setup also has Russell Yurk and Wayne Mackie assisting Riveron.
“Russell, not just Dean, was someone who was always part of the implementation of our instant replay policies and rules,” Vincent adds. “Now actually having him in-house, we just upgraded in that particular role. Now, he’s inside of AMGC; he was based in Arizona before.
“Having Wayne coming off the field — one of our better officials — now leading our efforts on development and identification, there’s a better team approach.”
Riveron, who was born in Cuba and moved to the United States with his family at age 5, takes over just when New York headquarters will make the final decisions on replay reviews, in consultation with the referee at each stadium. Those refs will be using Microsoft Surface tablets for reviews rather than going “under the hood” as part of the NFL’s emphasis on eliminating dead time in games.
“We want to make the game more enjoyable for not only our fans in the stadium, but also for our viewers at home,” Riveron says. “We are in the entertainment business, and we want to make sure that we come out with the best possible product. From the officiating side, there are certain things that we can do without giving up the consistency and efficiency of what we do of moving the game along.”
Such as a 40-second clock now in use after a score or a PAT when TV doesn’t go to a break.
“It consistently moves the game along and tells everybody what is next,” he says. “There’s not that lull period in between where we are guessing what’s next and what’s coming. All 17 crews are doing it the same way.”
There also are a bunch of points of emphasis and rules changes to oversee. Most notable is eliminating the “jumper” on extra points — no more hurdling linemen in an attempt to block the kick. There’s added protection for a receiver while running a route, elimination of a specific crack-back block, and a continuation of kicking off from the 35-yard line while bringing touchbacks out to the 25.
Then there is the full-time officials plan, which Riveron says won’t necessarily lead to eight-man NFL crews, though the NCAA has gone that route.
“What we want at the end of the day is consistency,” Riveron says. “The better we can get our message out to the crews, the better off we all are. What I see is bringing the officials into the office during the week. They are full-time, so their first responsibility is to us. We are going to have officials from each of the seven positions, we are going to have a cross-section of officials from all of the crews that will be coming into the office to help us put video together and identify videos. They will help us with the evaluation process of our officiating developmental staff, and also help us with selecting certain plays of interest that we could use mechanically to get better and more consistent.
“How can we be consistent and do it the same way in Miami at 1 o’clock and at Seattle at 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon?”