NFL replay system isn’t working
September 23, 2004
Fans opposed to the use of instant replay reviews in the National Football League can list numerous legitimate problems with the flawed system, and last Monday night’s game between Minnesota and Philadelphia exhibited some of them.
On one big play near the end of the first half, losing 10-6, Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper ran the ball to the goal line and stepped into the end zone, but was ruled to have fumbled before scoring a touchdown. One could have argued that the point of the ball had broken the plane of the end zone before the fumble, and considering the importance and the closeness of the play, surely a review was deserved. Culpepper, walking around the field signaling touchdown, certainly thought so.
But no review was ever made. Since the play occurred in the final two minutes of a half, by rule only the referees could initiate a review, and they were content with the call on the field. Regardless of whether the call was right or wrong, it is unbelievable and unfair that at the most important times of the game, coaches are not allowed to ask for reviews. That rule seems suspicious and gives referees further power to decide game outcomes.
Later in the game, Philadelphia wide receiver Terrible Owens was awarded a touchdown on a catch he made clearly out of bounds. Before Minnesota coaches saw the replay of the botched call, Philly kicked the extra point, making it too late for a review.
Instead of becoming a perfect example of why review was instituted in the first place, that play was a perfect example of how the system doesn’t work. NFL referees make bad calls that often go undetected. If coaches were allowed until the ensuing kickoff to use one of their allotted reviews, at least Minnesota could have had enough time to take notice of and correct that score-changing referee mistake.
Even when almost the whole world is sure that a ruling on the field is incorrect, there’s still no guarantee that a review will fix the error. Action during plays is open to interpretation, so different referees will make different rulings on the same play.
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What’s worse is what happens when a coach is right about his challenge and the referee is not. That coach gets the double-whammy because he is now also penalized a valuable time out for being ruled incorrect. For that reason, sometimes coaches are reluctant to even risk a review. Considering the enormous expense and time the NFL has put forth in the system, coaches should be allowed one or two free reviews.
Also, many other referee blunders are unreviewable, and review is rendered useless when a ref blows an inadvertent whistle.
There are those who think that paying referees year-round to concentrate solely on the job of officiating would correct many of the problems. It’s a nice thought, but it will never happen. Six days of the week NFL officials will continue to be doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc., because that’s the way the league wants it. Certainly the NFL has the men they want officiating each game.
In all fairness, though, referees are not robots and they do not drop in once a week from outer space.
They will make mistakes. They will be influenced by home crowds. They might learn to not like the coaches and players of a particular team. If they have always liked pro football, which undoubtedly some have, they more than likely have had favorite and hated teams, or perhaps always rooted a little for the underdog. They might have even once bet on football games, and for all we know, God forbid, maybe they still do.
Although it would appear to some that replay reviews are helping the game, handicappers and fans will still all ultimately be at the mercy of the referees.
Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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