Three years ago when the NFL adopted the instant replay system, fans cheered. It was to be the end of all bad calls and no blind referee would ever cost his or her team a victory again.
Well, at least in theory.
In practice, the system is fatally flawed and it takes professional training to understand the rules on what can and cannot be reviewed. A fumble can’t be looked at if the whistle had already blown. Subjective calls such as pass interference and holding can’t be reviewed at all.
Even NFL coaches have a hard time remembering the nuisances of the system. It is now a common occurrence to see an enraged head coach toss his red challenge flag onto the field, only to have the referee return it to him.
In all fairness, the league office determined that only plays involving field position and possession could be reviewed in order to avoid chaos and challenges on every play.
In general that would be fine but they can’t even get that right.
The NFL had to issue an official apology to the New Orleans Saints for three critical calls that may have likely given them a victory over the Carolina Panthers this season. The league admitted missing a safety call, an incorrect pass interference call and then a blown defensive holding call in overtime.
The Saints lost 23-20 in overtime.
The league office is also overly paranoid and incapable of handling criticism.
NFL rules allow fining for direct criticism of officials, but not the replay system. So when Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick went on a rant and called for “dumping” replay in its current form, they went back and found an incident to fine him for.
That wouldn’t be necessary if the NFL were more open to fixing replay instead of defending it.
The NFL has a track record of weird rules affecting the outcome of games.
Remember the “Tuck Rule” call that kept the New England Patriots from losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on their way to the Super Bowl two years ago? That rule is still on the books.
What about “running into the kicker” or better yet, that “leaping” call on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that gave the Indianapolis Colts a second chance at a game winning field goal earlier this year?
Protecting vulnerable players – such as a punt returner who is focused on the ball or a kicker whose leg is extended – is good. Asinine rules that take it too far and hurt the game is unacceptable.
While these issues don’t seem to be causing the NFL to lose any fans, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take action. The league office must find a way to fix it and implement a more “true” replay system.
Replay is up for a renewal vote during the offseason and as more and more teams fall victim to the system, they announce intentions to vote against continuing it.
And that would be the ultimate bad call.