As the pro-football-following (and pro-football-playing) world continues to emerge from its six-month slumber to realize that the stewards of the game have launched under the guise of evolution a potential revolution to the way it is played, calls are mounting for adjustment, revision, or outright scrapping of the new rule against lowering the head to initiate and make contact with an opponent. But there’s another potential fix that could be made, if the league is willing to bother to notice and to admit that the golden goose has got the flu.
The easy solution: Expand replay review to encompass the calls made, and not made, under this new rule.
NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron admitting during a Friday conversation on the #PFTPM podcast that the Competition Committee did indeed consider making replay review available for these bang-bang, real-time, full-speed collisions, but that for now the decision has been made to not embrace it. As the clock inches toward the potential transformation of pigskin into pumpkin upon the official launch of the 2018 regular season, perhaps the Competition Committee should revisit its position, ASAFP.
Given the mistakes that are being made when it comes to throwing the flag (Riveron admitted in a Friday video disseminated to the media that two specific calls from Week One of the preseason were wrong, and the hit from 49ers safety Elijah Lee on Cowboys running back Bo Scarbrough that left Cowboys owner Jerry Jones scratching his head also was deemed to be an error), it makes sense to give the officials some help when enforcing a rule that will, or won’t, fuel or kill drives, 15 yards at time. Robert’s Rules or Order be damned; it shouldn’t be all that hard for the league to take swift and decisive measures to ensure that this rule won’t swiftly and decisively mar the entire season.
What’s the argument against using replay review for the new helmet rule? That it will slow the game down? The games already are delayed by efforts to get a wide variety of calls right, and there should be no hesitation to ensure the accuracy of this newest and, for now, most challenging of calls to make with the naked eye, as embedded in a middle-aged, armorless bodies that primarily are trying to survive amid gladiators. The “but the games will take four hours!” crowd has been banging that drum since the moment the league reluctantly re-introduced technology for the purposes of correcting mistakes, and the games for the most part continue to fit neatly within the preferred TV windows.
Given the potential for significant mistakes, and the inevitable outcry from fans, media, and players who don’t like the rule even when properly applied, why not remove from the stew of potential gripes the possibility (reality) that, on a regular basis, officials will accidentally call a helmet foul that didn’t occur, or accidentally fail to call a helmet foul that did?
The problem is real. The solution, short of adjusting the language of the rule itself, is simple. And it’s the kind of middle ground that may make the adjustment to the NFL’s sudden realization, after decades of helmets being used as weapons, that maybe helmets shouldn’t be used as weapons easier for fans, media, and players to digest.
At a time when it will be nearly impossible for enough voices to get behind any specific tweaking of the rule itself, anyone concerned about what this rule could do to the game should forget (for now) about trying to fix the rule itself and simply demand that steps be taken to make sure the rule is applied properly and consistently.
Personally, I’ll settle for a solution that may not fit neatly within the accepted procedure and protocols, but that will have the same practical outcome as replay review. As the officials at a given game site are huddling to discuss whether a foul was indeed committed (which seems to have happened every time this penalty has been called in the preseason), Riveron or one of his lieutenants at 345 Park Avenue should be calling up the video and speaking directly to the referee, via the instantaneous pipeline created to allow the league office to make replay decisions.
“It’s not a foul, Pete,” should be the message, when the video shows that a foul didn’t happen.
They don’t even have to admit they’re doing it. Just do it. Use the benefit of instantaneous hindsight to ensure that the officials saw, or didn’t see, what they think they saw, or didn’t see. At a time when the NFL finally has decided to no longer be cavalier about techniques that have been around for as long as the helmet morphed from leather into hard plastic, the league should not be cavalier about the accidental consequences that will arise when officials who, while trying their best to figure out what’s happening right in front of them, simply can’t.