For now, it’s No. 10. In time it could be No. 1. Hopefully, it will slide off the list altogether.
After a couple of months of signaling that it was fine with the status quo in the aftermath of the Rams-Saints officiating debacle, the NFL overreacted worse than Andy Bernard when he couldn’t find his cellphone with the Rockin’ Robin ring tone, blasting a hole in the wall that keeps replay review from creating anarchy.
As it currently stands, the NFL took a sledgehammer to a problem that could have been solved with a scalpel, making replay review available for all calls and non-calls of defensive and offense pass interference. As explained to NFL Media employees last month by NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron, what should have simply been a “break glass in event of emergency option” will result in plenty of fans breaking plenty of glasses while watching plenty of games get bogged down by plenty of extra challenges and automatic reviews, with Riveron taking close, subjective decisions made in real time and dissecting them (possibly erroneously) to change rulings based on something other than clear and obvious evidence — just like he did on multiple occasions with the catch rule in 2017.
The panic button has not yet been pressed on this one, because most are waiting to see how it plays out in the preseason. And if, like the ill-advised helmet rule a year ago, it becomes a disaster, it presumably can be changed on the fly before Week One.
And the change could be an easy one. The Commissioner needs to explain to Riveron that the league wants only to ensure that blatantly missed calls will be rectified this way, and that Riveron should not give in to the temptation to micromanage the full-speed assessments of the pushing and shoving and jostling that happens when the ball is in the air.
It’s been said time and again that replay should overturn a ruling on the field only when 50 drunks in a bar would agree that a mistake was made. With pass interference, the number should be more like 500 or 5,000 or even 50,000. The power to drop or to pick up a flag (or to simply call offsetting fouls and order a do-over) should be used rarely, and only when it’s clear and obvious and the judgment and discretion given to the officials on the field has been badly and inexplicably abused.
Like it was when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman blew up Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis with a conference title on the line. That non-call sparked a multi-day controversy, saber-rattling by politicians, a lawsuit, and ultimately an anti-Super Bowl parade in New Orleans. Riveron’s session with NFL Media employees identified for reversal via replay review two other calls (one from Chargers-Chiefs in Week 15 and one from Super Bowl LIII) that created barely a blip of controversy.
The challenge for the NFL in its 100th season — and ultimately the challenge for the Commissioner — will be to protect the integrity of the game from this kind of overuse of a tool that seems to be far too big and far too powerful for the person who will be in position to use it on a regular basis.
Hopefully the failure to do so won’t become the top story for the entire year.