April 21 (UPI) -- NFL owners approved a series of new rules Wednesday, including expanded booth-to-official communication and loosened restrictions on who can wear which jersey numbers.
League owners rejected stronger calls for a full-time sky judge, including one proposal from the Baltimore Ravens that would have created a booth umpire. Instead, owners took a smaller step and gave existing replay officials -- who are stationed in the press box of each stadium -- the authority to consult with on-field referees.
Replay officials won't be able to throw penalty flags or reverse calls on their own, but they can now offer on-field referees guidance based on what they've seen on broadcast replays concerning possession, completed or intercepted passes, the location of the ball relative to the boundary or end line, and whether a player is down by contact.
Before the change, replay officials had been restricted to participating in plays that were under review.
Coaches won't have to throw challenge flags to prompt the advice, which some replay officials have been providing on-field referees informally for years.
Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL competition committee, said the committee and league owners felt uncomfortable about adding another official with full authority.
"I think we should try this," McKay told ESPN. "We have the technology. We have really good technology. It sits in the booth with the replay official, and it sits in New York.
"I think what we thought, and what the coaches' subcommittee though, was let's use that technology and let's try to improve the crew. I do get nervous when it goes beyond that."
Previously, only quarterbacks, kickers and punters were allowed to wear single-digit numbers. The rule change will allow running backs, tight ends, fullbacks, H-backs and wide receivers to wear numbers 1-49 and 80-89.
Defensive backs can choose from 1-49, while linebackers can use 1-59 and 90-99. Offensive linemen can pick 50-79, and defensive linemen are able to wear 50-79 and 90-99. Quarterbacks, punters and kickers will remain in the 1-19 range.
Also Wednesday, the NFL announced it will release its 2021 schedule May 12 at 8 p.m. EDT. The new 18-week regular-season schedule will consist of 17 games per team -- up from the traditional 16 -- after owners approved a one-game expansion last month.