Thereís no question that the 2013 season marked a new low for officiating in general among refs who werenít lockout replacements. Call after call was botched during the season (especially by the often hilarious Jeff Triplette), and though different solutions have been proposed, thereís not much in the pipeline that would provide real change. The league has passed a new proposal that would allow a command center in New York City to help officials with replay calls as theyíre being reviewed, and thereís a thought that personal fouls should be reviewed, but the leagueís continued insistence that judgment calls such as pass interference and fumble recoveries on the field of play canít be reviewed continues to be a source of consternation. As it should be.
Throughout the years that instant replay has been in place, itís been proposed informally at times that all calls should be reviewed on a no-matter-what basis. Former VIP of officiating Mike Pereira, now a rules analyst for FOX Sports, long opposed the idea, perhaps because he didnít want the judgment calls of his officials put under a microscope. Pereira changed his tune a bit when he moved to his new role, saying during an obviously blown fumble call in the most recent NFC Championship Game that he had heard there would be some changes in the offseason. On the play in question it was clear that 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman had recovered a fumble from Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse, but the call went the other way.
But the NFLís desire for incremental change stops short of an ideal solution for many, and at the current owners meetings in Orlando, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has put forth the proposal that all penalties should be subject to challenge.
ďIím not proposing more challenges,Ē he said. ďAll Iím saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. And why does it have to be limited to, I donít know, thereís four or five pages in the rules book of plays that can be challenged, and now this year there are more proposals to amend that probably because of one or two plays that happened in the league last year.
ďI think eventually, each year, thereís gonna be some other circumstance, situation that comes up and weíre gonna want to add that. I mean itís four to five pages of plays that challenge procedure. Every year it gets amended and itís hard to keep it straight. I canít get it right. We have a coach thatís responsible for that on gameday to know exactly Ö I donít know how the fans could possibly get it right if the coaches canít get it right. For the officials themselves, itís challenging. I think it simplifies it. And I understand itís a judgment call. So, if I throw a challenge on an offensive holding play and they look at it, and they donít think itís holding, I lose the challenge. But if itís an egregious play, I donít see why it should not be allowed to be challenged when it affects the outcome of the game. I think we can find multiple, multiple examples of plays for example where the offense isnít set, that if the officials could look at it, itís very clear that theyíre not set, that would nullify what subsequently happened.
ďIf we fundamentally want to try to get the games right and the plays right, then I donít see why they should be excluded. Even though theyíre judgment calls, but if youíre willing to use a timeout on that, I think you should be able to do that. Itís not going to slow the game down. Itís no different than if you challenged another play. So, Iím not looking for more challenges or anything else, just if you think it was a call that was missed, that you should have the opportunity to have the officials review it. Thatís all. I donít know if anybody agrees with that or not, but thatís the proposal.Ē
Belichick also pointed to the seemingly needless complexity of certain review proposals, which may be one reason for relative delays in replay improvements.
ďThere is a proposal in there from the competition committee that is like a page and a half long about amending a fumble recovery in the field of play and all that. I mean, itís hard to understand all the circumstances that have to be in place on each challenge process. Itís extensive.Ē
As it turns out (and as you might expect) others to agree. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was asked about Belichickís proposal by Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan on Tuesday.
ďItís interesting that some of the restrictions on what you can challenge go a long way back,Ē Carroll said of the proposal put forth by the man who replaced him in Foxboro. ďWe could revisit those. Bill makes the point that if itís an egregious error, letís do something about it. Just because itís on that list of crazy things that nobody can remember and you canít challenge, nobody can do it. It could factor into the results of the games being correct, and you donít get any more challenges. Itís not like you can challenge 20 things per game. People may think that it could change the way the rhythm of the game goes, but it wonít. I donít like replay anyway ó I never have. But if itís restricted as it is, I think thereís a really valid point there.Ē
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also agreed when he spoke to the media at the AFC coachesí breakfast.
ďItís our feeling that the technology has caught up with the game in a lot of ways,Ē Harbaugh said. ďAnd sometimes, we lag behind in technology a little bit. But we should come to change totally, and we should do it for the right reasons. Itís about time we recognized that when the fans have a better view of the game than the referee does, you give the referee the same view as the fans. They have great ways of doing it, and I tend to agree with coach Belichick in that everything should be reviewed. Work back from what shouldnít be reviewed, not from what should. All we do every year is to add things for review. A play happens like the San Francisco play, and we say, ĎOh, thatís a loophole ó that should be reviewed. Thatís the tail wagging the dog. Everything that can be reviewed should be reviewed, and what that does not include, we should decide how to do it, and whether it goes back to the NFL office. That sounds like a great plan Ö
ďBut make sure the outcome is right, so that when the game is said and done, weíre not blaming the officials for the outcome of the game one way or the other. We should be patting the coaches and players on the back. Thatís where the outcome of the game should be. We have the technology to do that. Donít put the referee in the position where the fans have a better view of the play than he does. That makes no sense.Ē
Currently, the NFLís review system covers scoring plays, pass completions and interceptions, whether a runner or receiver is out of bounds, the recovery of a loose ball out of bounds, a quarterback pass/fumble, an illegal forward pass, forward or backward pass, a runner ruled down by contact, forward progress for a first down, the touching of a kick, football placement and spots, and whether a legal number of players is on the field at any given time.
Which, in the end, is inexcusable. The NFL is a $10 billion per year league, and the interest in getting calls right ó all the calls right ó should be primary. You could ask the Pittsburgh Steelers about that. The Steelers missed the playoffs last season in part because Bill Leavyís crew couldnít count past six. More needs to be done.