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Proposed “tweak” of replay review for pass interference is more like an amputation

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 30: Deon Bush #26 of the Chicago Bears breaks up a pass to Adam Thielen #19 of the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bush was flagged for a face mask penalty on the play. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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The NFL went too far one way in March. It may now go too far the other way in May.

Only two weeks after Competition Committee member Stephen Jones expressed during an appearance on #PFTPM a high degree of confidence that the new rule that makes offensive and defensive pass interference subject to the full replay review system would not be tweaked in May, someone else from the Competition Committee has leaked to the league’s media conglomerate that the league may revise the rule.

Specifically, ownership possibly will authorize the Competition Committee to revise the rule as needed after the Competition Committee completes its meetings with teams. And the word “tweak” makes it all sound more innocuous than it really is.

The currently proposed change, if made, means that automatic review would not be available for calls and non-calls of pass interference after scoring plays, after turnovers, in the final two minutes of either half, or during overtime. Which means that the horrendous call at the end of regulation in the Rams-Saints NFC title game -- the horrendous call that sparked the change in the first place -- would have been subject to replay review only if Saints coach Sean Payton happened to have at least one red challenge flag remaining, and at least one timeout to lose in the event the challenge was denied.

It’s hardly a “tweak.” It’s more like an amputation. And the reason given for it by the Competition Committee to NFL Media (it will lead to “greater consistency” by not having “two different standards of review”) makes, with all due respect, absolutely no sense.

It’s still no surprise that this is happening. The Competition Committee didn’t want to change the rule in the first place, hiding behind the “unintended consequences” boogeyman for as long as possible, until the moment coaches and owners converged to demand action at the league meetings in Arizona. The Competition Committee’s attempt to do nothing resulted in the league not being properly prepared to do anything, which resulted in something being cobbled together on an emergency basis at the end of the meetings, without anyone properly thinking things through.

In the aftermath of the expansion of replay to include replay review, we identified several potential complications that may have been glossed over in the rush to throw a rule together. By including offensive pass interference, pick plays now become a potential basis for wiping out completed passes and touchdowns, if any eligible receivers threw a block more than one yard from the line of scrimmage before the ball was thrown. Also, by adding pass interference to the current load of reviewable plays, the people responsible for initiating and conducting replay review may not be able to handle the increased demands efficiently and effectively.

The proposed “tweak” leaked on Thursday to league-owned media likely flows from a potential complication that hadn’t been previously addressed. Given the trigger for conducting an automatic replay review, it won’t take much to slow down a game while the league office rules out pass interference.

The standard for sparking an automatic replay review mirrors the standard for overturning a ruling on the field. There must be clear and obvious evidence to scrap an on-field officiating mistake, and there must be clear and obvious evidence that the ruling on the field was correct to prevent an automatic review.

When it comes to pass interference, plenty of rulings (both calls and non-calls) will not be clearly and obviously correct. Which will require a closer look via the full-blown replay review function. Which will slow down the game in those specific situations where an automatic replay review is available.

That’s what the league (or whoever leaked the information to league-owned media) was getting at when referring to striving for “greater consistency” by not having “two different standards of review.” The standard for overturning the call won’t change; the standard for initiating a review goes from the question of whether the ruling was clearly and obviously correct to whether the coach is willing to play the chess-checkers-chicken-cornhole game of when to throw that miniature red beanbag, knowing that only so many can be thrown in a given game.

This “tweak” would seriously complicate the challenge that is the coach’s challenge. Will a coach tolerate a bad call in the first half in order to have the ability to challenge a worse call in the second half? And will a coach ever risk losing a red flag except when it’s abundantly clear that the challenge will prevail?

And therein lies the twisted wisdom of the potential change. Coaches will be very careful about when to challenge pass interference, especially in the early stages of a game. Coaches also will become even more careful about challenging anything, because the worst-case scenario would be to have a Rams-Saints call and no way to fix it.

This proposed “tweak,” if it happens, should spark others. For example, coaches should have three challenges regardless of whether their first two are successful. Also, if a coach has no time outs, he should still be able to use a challenge with the price being 15 yards of field position, if the ruling isn’t overturned.

Whatever the outcome of this effort to “tweak” the rule, the fact that it’s even an issue underscores the failure of the Competition Committee to realize that change was coming, and to adequately plan for it. This issue should have been handled in March; it wasn’t because the Competition Committee believed it would be able to shout down any and all advocates for changing the rules.

Meanwhile, it would be a hell of a lot easier to just have an extra official who monitors the TV broadcast and fixes all blatant errors in real time, with the benefit of the viewpoint that the rest of us have at home.