A perfect solution for the NFL’s challenge & replay system

March 27, 2012 by

All of the NFL power players are in Florida for the owner’s meetings. Being discussed, among other things, are possible rule changes for 2012 and beyond. One proposal from the Buffalo Bills is for the replay process to be confined strictly to the booth. This no-brainer of an idea is long-overdue. It was actually written about in the Fifth Down Blog back in December after a replay procedure took over 10 minutes in a Raiders-Packers game.

Also on the table is a rule change that would mandate automatic replay for all turnovers. Last year the NFL instituted automatic reviews for all scoring plays. Those reviews were often efficient and unobtrusive because…they took place strictly up in the booth! (Though they became annoyingly long whenever the booth ruled that the head official needed to go under the hood for a closer inspection.)

Finding a quick, painless way to review all turnovers is a good idea, but here’s a better one: just make all plays automatically reviewable from up in the booth, and give the booth official the power to override any on-field call. This is the direction the NFL is naturally going in anyway.

The concern with this sort of system is whether it could prolong the game in a bad way. One of some thousand-plus reasons why college football is vastly inferior to the pro game is its out-of-control replay setup. (In college, every play is subject to booth review and each team has one challenge.) But the NFL could privately instruct replay officials to be judicious with their powers. They could publicly trumpet their strive for officiating perfection while privately telling the booth lords that it’s better to have a minor missed call or two and maintain the flow of a game than to nitpick for 3 hours and 45 minutes.

When you really think about it, red challenge flags are dramatic and fun, but it’s senseless to have a system that saddles a head coach with the responsibility of monitoring his team and the officiating crew. Why should arguing calls be a built-in element of strategy? In every sport, the goal with officials is to make them unrecognizable. Having replays quickly take place automatically and in a booth rather than deliberately and dramatically on the field is the best way to do that.

With the turnovers review rule change likely to receive the 75 percent of votes needed to pass, just about every significant on-field scenario will now be subject to automatic review. By still leaving teams with a pair of challenges (and a third if the first two are successful), the NFL is just inviting coaches to be more aggressive with their red flags. It would suddenly be less harmful to, say for example, challenge a three-yard catch near the sideline.

Referees are plenty prominent as it is; in a heavily-flagged game, they get as much full screen airtime as the coaches and quarterbacks (which is why most football fans now know who Ed Hochuli is). This needs to change. That can happen with one final all-encompassing correction to the system: the automatic reviews of all plays from the booth.
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email andy.benoit@nfltouchdown.com

 

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