As the NFL ponders whether to export the replay function from stadiums to a central location such as the league office, Sunday’s bungling of a Bengals touchdown call provides the best evidence that change is needed.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Cincinnati running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis hit the ground short of the goal line and then skidded across. Ruled not a touchdown on the field, the replay assistant activated the replay function by buzzing referee Jeff Triplette.
The question then became whether indisputable visual evidence existed to overrule the on-field decision that Green-Ellis was down. Triplette, who presided over the Week 13 Sunday night first-down clusterfudge in Washington, determined that the call on the field was wrong.
Triplette’s decision seemed to ignore the possibility that Green-Ellis was tripped up in the backfield by a Colts player, causing Green-Ellis to stumble and ultimately fall. As it turns out, Triplette’s decision did ignore that possibility; Triplette said after the game that he looked only at the end of the play.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that Triplette had the authority to review the entire play. Triplette, however, admitted to a pool reporter after the game that Triplette didn’t.
“It was a judgment call,” Aiello explained to Pelissero. “Jeff determined in the review that the runner was not down by contact.”
But that’s not the standard. The question is whether Triplette detected indisputable visual evidence that Green-Ellis wasn’t tripped up or otherwise touched by a defender on the way to the ground. Triplette necessarily failed to apply that standard because he didn’t even consider the visual evidence regarding the events that caused Green-Ellis to stumble and fall.
It’s easy to see why Triplette erred. Efforts to make a detached, clinical assessment of film becomes difficult if not impossible for officials who are attached to the playing field; a voting-booth curtain hardly transports the official to an environment that is conducive to a proper assessment of the video. These review need to be conducted in a place where reliable, consistent, and efficient decisions can be made by specialists who are sensitive to the applicable standard and in turn equipped to overturn only those rulings that are clearly incorrect.
Triplette’s mistake proves once again that the current system isn’t working. With replay mistakes being the easiest officiating gaffes for casual fans to identify and criticize, the NFL needs to find a better way to implement the replay system.
Taking it out of the stadiums and sending it to New York is the best way to do that.