NFL refs and instant replay are destroying the league

Shutdown Corner

Instant replay is supposed to make things better in the NFL. Instead, it’s morphed into a full-blown disaster.

In theory, replay should allow officials to fix wrong calls and stand by correct calls. That is, in effect, the entire point of having it. Instead, it is muddying the waters and making the game worse

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One of the terms we hear incessantly is “indisputable video evidence.” If there is even a hint of doubt, the call on the field stands. At least it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, this is not taking place.

Here are three plays in the past few weeks that were overturned without obvious indisputable evidence.

Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio speaks with referee Ed Hochuli during a game last season. (AP)
Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio speaks with referee Ed Hochuli during a game last season. (AP)

Ball fumbled into opposing team’s end-zone, goes out of bounds

Against the New England Patriots in Week 6, the New York Jets appeared to score a surefire touchdown when tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins made a diving effort toward the pylon. The ruling on the field was six points, and rightfully so. Following a lengthy review, however, the play was overturned. Replay officials ruled it a fumble out of the end zone and therefore a touchback. Pats ball. Jets lost the touchdown and the game … by seven.

Is it a catch or not?

It seems like there is a debate every weekend about one play regarding a questionable catch. In fact, I think most fans genuinely do not know what is – and isn’t – a catch. In fact, New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo felt the same way following Sterling Shepard‘s non-touchdown against the Eagles. “I’m trying to figure out what a touchdown catch and what isn’t a touchdown catch right now,” McAdoo said. “They said he dropped the ball when he went out of bounds.”

It all sounds simple enough: Possession through the ground, but we all know how tricky the rule can be. The beauty of football is players making jaw-dropping catches, a perfect balancing act of hand-eye coordination, athleticism and grace. Too often, though, replay wipes away our favorite plays, as well as the flow of the game. Unless a player blatantly drops the football, a catch ruled on the field should remain a catch. It’s that simple.

An overturned touchdown

This play still has me furious. With eight seconds left in a Week 3 game between Detroit and Atlanta, the Lions scored a touchdown on a Matt Stafford-to-Golden Tate connection. At least that was the call on the field anyway. All scoring plays are reviewed, though, and after further consideration, Tate was ruled down at the half-yard line. This was a bang-bang call and a very hard one to make in real time. It is debatable whether or not Tate got into the end-zone before being touched by a defender. What is not debatable, however, is that if there is debate, then by rule there is no more debate – the call on the field stands. In this case, touchdown Detroit.

Instead, a lengthly review resulted in a reversal. To make matters worse, since the Lions had no more timeouts, they incurred a 10-second run-off, and since there were only eight seconds left, game over. Falcons won, 30-26.

One more thing about this play: Tate juggled the ball as he went to the ground, but managed to regain control as he rolled to the ground. Applying the rule as officials did in Sterling Shepard’s non-catch, why did the touch before Tate went to the ground – i.e. before the catch was completed – matter? If he doesn’t have control, he can’t be tackled, right?

NFL Referees Association has <a href="" data-ylk="slk:refuted the claims;outcm:mb_qualified_link;_E:mb_qualified_link" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">refuted the claims</a> of referee Pete Morelli’s bias versus the Eagles. (AP)
NFL Referees Association has refuted the claims of referee Pete Morelli’s bias versus the Eagles. (AP)

Instant replay, as a whole, has done plenty of good for the NFL. I don’t think anyone can argue that. But the question we must raise is at what cost has that good come? At what point does it become counterproductive? Is it worth the headache of incessant coaches’ challenges, longer games and, as we’ve learned from these three plays, not following the rule that indisputable evidence must be available to change any call on the field?

For me, there is a simple answer: Ban replay. Football is a highly subjective game to referee. Pass interference is a perfect example of that. Holding is another. Both of those calls are not reviewable. And we’re better off for it. Truth be told, there is no perfect solution to blown or errant calls. What we know with certainty though, is that for all the bells and whistles instant replay offers, it has also become a highly flawed process – a process that is doing more harm than good.

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