Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The NFL votes to retain instant replay but also clarifies a rule brought to light in a Bucs game

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Bert Emanuel made this catch at St. Louis but may have had another under a rule clarified by the NFL on Wednesday

At the NFL's Annual Meeting in Palm Beach on Wednesday, league owners voted to retain the existing instant replay system by a 28-3 majority. That's a 90% approval rating that differs sharply from the results of a recent user poll on Buccaneers.com. In that poll, only 16% of respondents preferred to have the system return as is, although another 70% hoped to see it back with modifications.

Then again, Bucs fans might be biased.

After a season in which the new instant replay system rarely seemed to produce results in Tampa Bay's favor, it may seem ironic that a Buccaneer official is heavily involved in its return. As co-chairman of the NFL's prestigious Competition Committee, however, Buccaneer General Manager Rich McKay explains that the system did fulfill expectations in 1999.

"There were 100 games where it was never used, and 95 where it was used once," said McKay. "It wasn't intrusive. That's what we wanted from the system. It's an insurance policy to fix the disaster that just occurred."

McKay was referring to the string of regrettable calls during the 1998 season that led to the groundswell of support for instant replay, not anything that happened to his own ballclub in '99. As co-chair of the Competition Committee with Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green, McKay was responsible for leading the committee's recommendation to the owners. The committee recommended another season for the system and it was approved with relatively little discussion.

McKay has served on the competition committee since 1994 and has been a co-chairman for the last three years. He is thus intricately involved in the review and modification of league rules each season, an effort that is aimed at promoting competitiveness and player safety. In addition to the review of replay, the committee also modified a kickoff rule (players may no longer leap over the 30-yard line before the ball is kicked) and voted to impose fines on planned on-field group celebrations, such as St. Louis' famed 'Bob and Weave'.

There was also one other point of clarification that will be of particular interest to Buccaneer fans, even though it did not involve an official rule change. To help in the decision on the validity of a pass reception, the committee clarified that, if a receiver has control of the ball and then has a knee hit the ground, the ball may hit the ground as long as the player maintains control.

The most memorable example of such a play occurred in last January's NFC Championship Game when Tampa Bay's Bert Emanuel appeared to make a diving catch inside the Rams' 20-yard line in the fourth quarter. Since the play occurred in the final two minutes of the half, the review system was left in control of the replay official in an upstairs booth. The play was reviewed and ruled an incompletion, resulting in a third-and-23 at the St. Louis' 35. The same play would be interpreted as a catch in 2000.

In addition to McKay's role on the Competition Committee, the Buccaneers also maintained their yes vote for instant replay, with only Arizona, Cincinnati and Kansas City dissenting. The Buccaneers had been one of a handful of teams annually opposed to replay, which ended its initial run in 1991, before agreeing to its return in '99. The system returned last year with specific time limits for reviewing officials and with a challenge system that requires coaches to call for replay and risk a timeout if the play is not overturned.

McKay is part of a large Buccaneer contingent playing an intricate role in this year's Annual Meeting, held in Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to Owner/President Malcolm Glazer and Executive Vice Presidents Bryan Glazer, Joel Glazer and Ed Glazer, the Bucs are represented by McKay, Head Coach Tony Dungy, Assistant Head Coach Defensive Backs Herman Edwards and Director of Football Administration John Idzik. Dungy and Edwards helped lead a panel discussion on the issue of off-the-field violence, a topic that has taken center stage at the meetings. The annual meeting is scheduled to conclude on Thursday.

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