Will NFL replay review of pass interference work?
The NFL has gone into unchartered territory concerning replay review for the 2019 season. Pass interference now is on the table.
The first weekend of NFL exhibitions seemed to go smoothly concerning pass interference, the second weekend not as much, with more reviews and some lengthy reviews. The new policy says that like all other reviews, it will be initiated on the field after the two-minute warning of each half and that the replay official will stop the game only when there is “clear and obvious visual evidence” that pass interference was a possibility. And the same criteria – “clear and obvious visual evidence” – will be used in overturning calls, though that’s the same criteria for all reviewable plays.
The problem is that pass interference is like holding. You can find some form of a violation on almost any snap, including plays that are away from the action and seemingly had no bearing on the play.
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It’s possible that the NFL could be in for an in-season adjustment, as we saw last year with roughing the quarterback penalties. The first few weeks of the season, roughing penalties were in abundance. Then the officiating brain trust met with the NFL’s Competition Committee and sort of smoothed things over. Got the NFL a little bit more back to normal.
Most things the NFL does, college football follows a few years later. Greg Burke, the Big 12’s officiating supervisor, was asked during Big 12 Media Days if he thought college football would follow suit.
“I think in the long run we will have to see how it works for the NFL,” Burke said. “The Canadian Football League has used instant replay for pass interference for a few years now, and in talking to those folks, it's not been successful.
“Here is the reason: On judgment plays, whether it be holding or pass interference, there is a level of restriction on every one of those plays. Does that level rise to where we now have an advantage or a disadvantage? When you watch a play on film, a judgment play, whether it's holding or pass interference, you are going to see, yes, there was contact here early. So you still have to make a judgment on did it impede this player from making a play. So it's a slippery slope when you get into judgment areas.
“I don't know where technology is going. I know that I trust the judgment of our officials when it comes to those type of plays. When you go to replay and you say did he step out-of-bounds? Did he get a foot down with possession, did he reach the line to gain? Those are pretty easy things in the sense that it's yes or no. When you watch pass interference, it's not yes or no. It's varying degrees. It is my opinion that we leave that in the hands of the officials.
“The NFL, I'm glad they're going first on this and we will see how that works for them and what conclusions they reach. I'm happy with the college rule where it is right now.”
The NFL policy is a result of the Saints-Rams non-call from last January that likely put the Rams, instead of the Saints, in the Super Bowl. But it’s a potential over-reaction. Burke is right. Holding and pass interference are judgment calls, and replay decisions on those potential infractions are judgment calls, too.
We’re jumping from judgment call to judgment call. Is that really what we want to do?