The NFL’s Dumb Instant Replay Rule

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  I guess I wouldn’t be so upset with the NFL if it weren’t that college football has handled the instant replay issue so well.  The college system isn’t perfect, but it gets to the correct result, correcting egregious mistakes, and does it quickly.

The NFL is always learning.  This year they learned that helmet to helmet hits resulting in concussions, and cheapo replacement officials were not good for the game.  Hopefully, they will learn that the purpose of instant replay should be to obtain the correct result.  It should not be driven by some arcane system made up of red flags, time outs, and hooded monitors.

For years, the NFL had no instant replay system for fear that it would slow up the game.  It’s better to be wrong than go over their allotted TV time.  Then, they came up with the red flag system where the coach could challenge a call two or three times a game, by throwing a red flag on the field.  This, of course, has to be done before the next play.  If the coach throws the flag and no one sees it (it has happened), it’s just like the tree that falls in the forest and no one hears it.  Neither makes any noise.

The challenging coach loses a time out if he loses a challenge.  If he has used all of his time outs in a particular half, then he can’t challenge.  So in the first half of the Green Bay game against Minnesota last week, Green Bay was out of time outs.  Minnesota was credited with a completed pass, but the replay showed clearly that the ball hit the ground.  It was obvious to all.  But the play was not in the last two minutes of the half (where there are booth replays) and since Green Bay had no time outs left, they could not challenge.  They still had another challenge, but would have to wait till the second half, when they had a new batch of time outs.

In the NFL, all challenges are decided by the referee on the field.  The red flag is thrown.  The referee goes over to the sidelines and talks to the challenging coach.  Then the referee announces to the crowd what every one already knows.  Then the ref goes over to the “Field Level Monitor” – the hooded thing-a-ma-jig.  The NFL rules state that he can only spend 60 seconds under the hood.  This was to speed up the game.  But no time limit was set for how long he may chat with the “replay official” in the “replay booth” before he goes under the hood or after he comes back out.  The whole think is like Kabuki Theatre.  Eventually, the referee will announce whether the play stands or is reversed.  If the play stands, the challenging team loses a time out.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Houston Texans were in Detroit.  On one play, the officials determined that the Texans had scored a touchdown.  In fact, the runner’s knee and elbow were on the ground before he scored.  Detroit’s coach Jim Schwartz, threw his red flag.  Ah, but wait!  Scoring plays are automatically reviewed.  Schwartz should not have thrown his silly red flag.  That constituted a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  AND, teams who are penalized are not permitted the benefit of a challenge review.  Thus, the touchdown counted even though the runner was clearly down before the score.

I’m sorry, but I thought the idea of replay was to get the thing right.  The rule is “indisputable video evidence.”  If there is indisputable video evidence that the call on the field was wrong, then it is reversed.  If it can’t be positively decided the tie goes to the runner. No, no.  That’s a different game.  If it can’t be decided, the play stands as called on the field.

I think almost all challenges are ruled on correctly and it is amazing how many times the real (not rental) officials on the field get it right.  But my complaint is, should a horrible call stand just because the coach doesn’t have another challenge?  Or, even worse, he has a challenge, but no time outs?  Should a team be poorly treated because the officials have made so many bad calls that all the team’s challenges are exhausted?

That can’t happen in college ball.  There are a lot more reviews and they do it in less time.  No Kabuki Theatre.  The NFL needs to adopt the college review procedures.  I know, I know.  When pigs fly.  Did I really say that?

Written by PJ Rice at

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