Prior to the league meetings in March, it seemed that Commissioner Roger Goodell was content to allow the NFL embark on its 100th season without addressing the situation that gave rise to the Rams-Saints debacle in the postseason. Now, it seems that Goodell may be content to allow the NFL to embark on its 100th season without addressing the overcorrection to the situation that gave rise to the Rams-Saints debacle in the postseason.
Despite the seemingly high bar that the Competition Committee has crafted for overturning offensive and defensive pass interference calls and non-calls, NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron seems to be intent on applying a looser standard, based on comments he recently made to a group of NFL Media employees. The effort to address an egregious non-call of pass interference in the NFC Championship game has led to, in Riveron’s apparent view, a full-blown process for frame-by-frame analysis of judgment calls.
It’s one thing to apply a fine-toothed video comb to the question of whether a receiver got two feet in bounds when catching a pass, or whether a fumble happened before a runner’s knee struck the ground. Those questions are objective. Pass interference is subjective, and thus not conducive to the same kind of careful, deliberative assessment that Riveron seems to intend to apply.
That’s why the Competition Committee has tried to convey the notion that the extraordinary remedy of overturning a call or non-call pass interference should happen only when the evidence of error is truly clear and obvious. If the error isn’t truly CLEAR and OBVIOUS, the ruling stands.
The problem, however, is that Riveron has a proven track record of failing to apply the clear and obvious standard. It happened on multiple occasions in 2017 with the catch rule, and it’s destined to happen again — especially with Riveron telling NFL Media employees that Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore would have been flagged via replay review for pass interference at a key moment in Super Bowl LIII, even though the evidence is neither clear nor obvious that Gilmore significantly hindered Rams receiver Brandin Cooks.
That’s where Goodell comes into play. Some believe that Goodell personally intervened with Riveron in 2017, culminating in a couple of touchdown catches in Super Bowl LII that would have been overturned during the season not being overturned during the championship game. Whether Goodell did or didn’t do it then, Goodell needs to do it now.
It’s not that difficult. The rules have been changed to address an egregious mistake like the kind that happened in the Rams-Saints game. That’s the line — egregious mistake. A mistake so clear that 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 drunks in a bar would call it a mistake. The non-call on Gilmore wasn’t that kind of mistake. The non-call on Chargers receiver Mike Williams from Week 15 wasn’t that kind of mistake.
Riveron doesn’t see it that way. And the responsibility falls on one person — the Commissioner — to ensure that, before September 5, Riveron sees it that way or the league hires someone to handle the replay function who will. Only the integrity of the league’s 100th season is riding on whether the Commissioner personally addresses this problem.