Considering what transpired at the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix, AZ last week, is anyone certain that any of the alleged “issues” surrounding the officiating in pro football have improved for the better?
In fact, it’s entirely plausible we have just seen a full-fledged stamp of “No Confidence” overwhelmingly voted upon by the league’s 32 owners, after the head coaches’ stand upon their bully pulpit. NFL referees, already considered the bad-guys-by-proxy by just about everyone else, might need to keep the local unemployment office on their personal speed dial.
Would you feel confident if your bosses had voted not to trust you with important, potentially critical decision-making calls by a 31-1 count? That’s what the NFL head coaches did last week when they pushed to support New Orleans’ Sean Payton and his “we need to review pass interference” campaign.
The coaches were adamant about it. Ownership capitulated, with only the Cincinnati Bengals voting against a review of DPI (defensive pass interference) and OPI (offensive pass interference) calls. Reportedly, at least two coaches with a lot of sway around the league championed Payton’s call for truth, justice and the New Orleans way – in light of the officiating error perpetrated in the NFC title game against the Rams:
Bill Belichick and Andy Reid.
You probably saw the play. We all saw the play. It was the very definition of what we believe pass interference to be, with contact made on the offensive player (Tommylee Lewis) by the defensive player (Nickell Robey-Coleman) well before the ball arrived from Drew Brees.
Yet it wasn’t called, for whatever reason – originally, the ball was thought to have been tipped (it wasn’t), or the player and the ball had arrived simultaneously (they didn’t). Lewis was clobbered, and the officials’ error in judgment was painfully obvious.
Hence, the hubbub in the aftermath. The Saints felt they were robbed, and maybe they were? Now, the NFL develops an officiating credibility issue they need to stop in its tracks – hence, the near-unanimous support for Sean Payton. The thought being, hey maybe, “this could happen to any of us.”
So the end result, at least for the next year, will have a review on DPI or OPI originated by a coaches’ challenge, unless the game is in the last two minutes of a half. Then, New York takes over.
Maybe this will add time to a sport already fighting time-length issues, and maybe it won’t. Maybe this will help the officials we have in place recognize what is and isn’t a foul, and maybe it won’t. Maybe – the game has just become too fast for some officials to handle?
Or maybe, we simply need to let the players play, and recognize that with the evolution of the sport, simplicity is what we need on a field. Mistakes are bound to occur. And we’ve survived to this point, through 99 years of history. Pro football doesn’t need more discussion. Or more review. Or more magnifying glasses on plays that are too-close-to-call.
We need someone to say “these are the rules. Follow them. Sorry if the call didn’t go your way, but them’s the rules.”
The players – at least some of the vocal ones – don’t like this at all, as you might expect.
“Now they can control the outcome as they see fit. Every defendable pass looks like PI in slow motion,” said cornerback Richard Sherman via Twitter. Which could, of course, bring up issues of credibility as well as integrity.
And safety Eric Weddle echoed Sherman’s sentiment on Twitter by simply replying: “Dumb dumb dumb.”
The Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore joins in with his fellow defensive backs in this case, also saying via social media “That rule better go both ways LOL.” It should, as OPI is included in the approved review. But some fans are apparently not so sure about either call, with a recent Cleveland.com poll showing the rule change as NOT being a good idea (51 to 49%).
Yes, we know Coach Belichick has been a proponent of expanded replay. Frankly, it makes at least some sense to have all plays subject to review – leaving it up to a coach to decide what (or what not) to challenge. We have the technology. Shouldn’t we use it?
Not necessarily. We will be opening up non-calls on the field to replay scrutiny, further subjecting ourselves to inevitable human error (yes, mistakes do happen) and constantly questioning the validity of plays and actions already correctly interpreted or called.
Where, exactly, is the improvement?
When it comes to officiating, we should be all in – one way or the other. Either give the officials carte blanche to make calls as they see fit or allow technology to take over.
The mix of the two have so far only added to the lengthening of game times, increased the angst of fans and media and allowed the questioning of integrity within the sport to come into play.
Until we’re certain that expanded replay is the right answer and is what the game really needs, shouldn’t we be careful of what we wish for?
A knee-jerk response to an obvious error in judgment here can also mean a kick to the wrong spot, too.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 27th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio & Television Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.