Sports Specs with Sam

Why the new pass interference replay rule will be problematic for the NFL

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Sam Janssen

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Sports Specs with Sam
November 20, 2019
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Sports Specs with Sam

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There was a strong public reaction last January when the outcome of the NFC Championship game between the Saints and the Rams was impacted by a clear missed pass interference call with less than two minutes to go in the game. 

There was a lot of pressure this offseason from fans and league figures, most notably from Saints head coach Sean Payton, for the NFL to respond with some sort of rule change to prevent future games from being decided by misses of calls that are non-reversible. 

However, with the new rule that the NFL has instituted this season, they have not only failed to completely solve the problem but have opened up the possibility for all sorts of new problems to arise.

The rule change that the NFL chose to implement makes all pass interference calls reviewable. All of them can be challenged by the coaches or reversed by the officials after a replay review. This includes offensive and defensive pass interference.

While this change would have avoided the missed call in the NFC championship game, it will create much more controversy for the league and the officials than having a missed call in a key situation every once in a while. 

Human error is always going to be a factor in officiating and the ability for the referees to go back and reverse outcomes of plays because of calls they missed on the field gives them too much power. 

It is impossible to catch every penalty in real-time, and not every play is going to get reviewed. Giving them the ability to pick and choose which penalties they should’ve called creates way too many inconsistencies. 

Scoring plays and turnovers are automatically reviewed, but the ability to reverse them due to penalties that were uncalled or wrongfully called has not existed until now. 

One example of this new rule proving to be problematic was in the second week’s matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. 

With two minutes left in the first half, Stefon Diggs of Minnesota caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to cut Green Bay’s lead to 21-17 before halftime. 

No penalty was called, but in the review that is done after every scoring play, the officials determined that offensive pass interference should have been called on Dalvin Cook and negated the touchdown. 

The original intent of this rule change was to only reverse egregious missed calls with “clear and obvious visual evidence” on the field, and this one did not qualify as such. 

It happened away from the ball and was a penalty that rarely gets called, especially on scoring plays. While this call is technically allowed to be made with the new rules, it is one that does not get called consistently on the field and was cherry-picked by the officials after it was seen on replay review. 

If this situation occurred at the end of an important game, like at the end of a playoff game this postseason, the reaction by fans and by coaches and players would most likely be overwhelmingly negative. 

A touchdown being wiped off the board because of a non-egregious penalty that was only discovered on replay review sets a dangerous precedent. 

People want the outcomes of these games to be decided on the field, not just to see them be reversed three or four minutes later after referees have stared at the replay fifteen times. 

This rule also does not completely take away the possibility of a bad missed penalty, as it only applies to pass interference calls, so an obvious missed holding penalty or false start could still cost a team.

This rule was put in place to appease a group of individuals who were angry about the results of last year’s NFC title game. 

In the end, it will only serve to frustrate fans more than the occasional missed pass interference call and will cause a lot of confusion this season. 

There are several different ways that the NFL could make this rule better down the road; however, it would be almost impossible to reach a consensus on what is fair.

One option would be limiting reversals to the last two minutes of games and only reversing obvious, egregious missed calls. This would solve game-changing mistakes, like in last year’s NFC Championship game, without adding a lot of extra penalty reversals. 

Another option would be making penalty reversals only come from booth reviews and not coaching challenges, which would make it easier to establish a system with the NFL officials in which only the most extreme cases get reversed. 

Short of making all plays reviewable and playing five-hour-long games with constant replay reviews, there are always going to be some missed penalty calls in football games. 

This new rule change could help fix a few egregious missed calls but overall will do more harm than good and will confuse fans and players alike with its inconsistency. 

The objective nature of pass interference penalties makes them much harder to conclusively prove in a replay review than a catch or a turnover, so the replay reviews and reversals will never be consistent or clear cut.

It would be impossible to find a solution to all referee controversies in the NFL. And, this new pass interference rule is more of a problem than a solution. 

Janssen can be reached at [email protected]

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