When the NFL decided to make the final decisions on replay review at 345 Park Avenue, the NFL employed Dean Blandino as the person responsible for making those decisions. And Blandino, who never worked as an official, had a proven ability to watch replays through the lens not of whether the ruling on the field was correct, but whether it was clear and obvious that the ruling was wrong.
It’s now becoming clear and obvious that Al Riveron, a former on-field official, is not applying the “clear and obvious” standard on a consistent basis. The latest example comes from the touchdown catch by Bears tight end Zach Miller that after further review was changed to an incompletion.
Both Blandino and fellow former V.P. of officiating Mike Pereira strongly criticized the decision, with Blandino saying that the replay evidence was sufficiently clear and obvious to justify a reversal from incomplete to complete and Pereira being much more pointed with his what’s-the-world-coming-to?-style assessment of the decision to take a touchdown off the board.
Riveron has explained the decision in a video posted by the league. Here’s what he said: “As we see here, the receiver’s up in the air. As he’s coming down, right there, the ball is loose. Now we know that before he contacts the ground he must regain control of the football, because the ball is loose. As he’s coming down, one more time we see the ball loose. Right here, the ball is loose. And now we’re looking for the ball to make sure it does not hit the ground because we know he does not have control. As we move forward, there’s the ball, the ball is on the ground. We know he did not regain control. Therefore it’s an incomplete pass regardless of what happens after this. So even when he rolls over, that doesn’t count. We already have an incomplete pass, the play is over.”
Although Riveron continues to deliver his explanations and assessments in authoritative and persuasive fashion, his words often don’t mesh with the video. In this case, assessments of the ball being loose and, most importantly, the ball touching the ground aren’t corroborated by the actual evidence.
At a minimum, a close and careful squint is required in order to even begin to give Riveron the benefit of the doubt on his assessment that the ball touched the ground. (Even then, it’s hard to see what he claims to see.) Thus, if “clear and obvious” evidence is needed to overturn a ruling on the field, squinting shouldn’t be needed to see the evidence that is supposed to be clear and obvious.
The only thing currently clear and obvious is that the league has a problem regarding one of its most important functions, and that the league needs to fix it immediately.