The tangled web that Rich McKay is weaving when it comes to the decision to make pass interference generally subject to replay review but not subject to replay review in specific situations inadvertently has exposed that the NFL uses rules not on the books when officiating “Hail Mary” plays. That’s a real problem for the league, but one that apparently is baked firmly into the fibers of the officiating function.
A more recent problem that has yet to be addressed relates to the circumstances that constitute a Hail Mary for the purposes of turning off replay review. As previously explained, it’s simply not conducive to an objective definition based on field position, remaining time, and/or number of players in the end zone. Whatever parameters the league may set, smart coaches will find a way around them.
So here’s the solution. Because game officials apparently apply a know-it-when-you-see-it standard to applying the relaxed interference rules in real time, the game officials should determine the situations when a Hail Mary play has been called. It can happen before the play, with the officials telling the coaches and players that the Hail Mary rules are in effect. It can happen during the play, with the referee throwing his hand up as soon as the high, arcing pass is thrown, like the umpire does when invoking the infield fly rule in baseball. Or it can happen after, when one of the coaches tries to throw the red challenge flag and the referee says, “Sorry, coach, but that was a Hail Mary.”
Whatever the approach (and all three of them could be used), the situation calls for something subjective not objective, because coaches will manipulate their way around any and all objective tests.
Then there’s the lingering question as to why replay review shouldn’t be available for Hail Mary plays? If, as McKay explains it, a separate set of not-in-the-rulebook rules applies to pass interference in Hail Mary settings, wouldn’t senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron be capable of applying that same unwritten standard when reviewing the ruling on the field?
“We tell the officials, make sure you see if anybody gets pulled down or anybody gets dragged down, that is pass interference,” McKay recently said.
So what if a player gets pulled down or dragged down and the officials miss it? Shouldn’t Riveron get a chance to fix it? Wasn’t that the whole purpose of changing the rules after the Rams-Saints debacle?
This entire episode is exposing things about officiating that probably were better left unexposed. And they could leave the NFL with the same kind of blind spot that left the league with an unacceptable result that couldn’t be fixed.