“Expedited review” has become a vague and inconsistent device for fixing mistakes

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As the NFL inches toward embracing a full-blown sky judge/booth umpire procedure for supplementing on-field officiating, it’s using a hybrid system that many don’t understand — and that the league doesn’t apply as consistently as it should.

The current procedure has its roots in the real-time communication technology that the league established nearly a decade ago to allow the league office to commandeer the replay-review process. Once the pipeline that feeds instantaneous video and audio to 345 Park Avenue was established, the league realized it could be used for other things.

It started with basic administrative matters, such as putting the ball in the right spot or fixing mistakes with the clock or the down. At times, many wondered whether the league office was using it to fix other things, technically in violation of the rules — but as a practical matter aimed at getting calls right.

Some, like me, still believe to this day that it should have been used in the 2018 NFC Championship to direct the officials at the Superdome to drop a flag for pass interference on the Rams, rules regarding its usage be damned.

In recent years, the categories have expanded. Now, it’s generally called “expedited review.” But there doesn’t seem to be a clear understanding regarding when it can be used, how it can be used, and whether it is being used properly.

Here’s the relevant portion of the rulebook: “The Replay Official and designated members of the Officiating
department may consult with on-field officials, or conduct a replay review, or advise the game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play when clear and obvious video evidence is present, and/or to address game administration issues, including, but not limited to: (a) penalty enforcement; (b) the proper down; (c) spot of a foul; (d) the game clock; (e) possession; (f) completed or intercepted pass; (g) touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line; (h) location of the football or a player in relation to a boundary line, the line of scrimmage, the line to gain, or the goal line; or (i) down by contact (when a player is not ruled down by contact on the field). Nothing in this Article precludes a Head Coach or Replay Official from initiating a challenge or review otherwise allowed under Rule 15, Section 1.”

The first part of the rule is significant, for two reasons. First, it’s very broad. There can be consultation with the officials OR a replay review OR advice provided regarding specific, objective aspects of a play.

Second, the rule says that the replay official and designated members of the officiating department “may” consult, etc. Not “shall,” but “may.” That’s an important distinction. “Shall” is mandatory; “may” is permissive.

They can do it. But they don’t have to do it.

It seems as if there’s no consistent procedure for using expedited review to affirmatively spot and fix all errors. Instead, it seems more like something they do if someone happens to notice.

Yesterday’s games provided multiple examples of “expedited review” in action, or not. In 49ers-Eagles, the league office (which has immediate access to all camera angles from the game site) did not notice that Philadelphia receiver DeVonta Smith had lost possession of a key fourth-down reception before the Eagles rushed to the line and started the next play.

In Bengals-Chiefs, expedited review spotted that the shin of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was down before he threw a pass. This allowed the Bengals to not use a challenge, which coach Zac Taylor was prepared to do.

Also in Bengals-Chiefs, expedited review was not used to give the Chiefs a first down when receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling reached the ball forward on third down, beyond the line to gain. Chiefs coach Andy Reid was forced to use his last challenge in order to fix something that expedited review could have fixed.

Could have, not should have. Because the rule says “may” not “shall.”

This is something the league needs to rectify in March. There shouldn’t be inconsistency as to how it’s used. There shouldn’t be discretion as to when it will be used. And the league should work directly with the broadcast networks to help media and viewers better understand when and how expedited review does and doesn’t work.

Currently, “expedited review” is an amorphous device for the league office to wave a wand and fix some things, but not others. It should be far more clear, far more understandable, and far more consistently applied to all situations, for both teams.

The legalization and relentless promotion of gambling causes folks to embrace like never before the notion that games are rigged, even if they aren’t. Expedited review can fuel these conspiracy theories, because no one seems to really understand how it is and isn’t used.

More importantly, a vague and inconsistent process creates an opening for the unscrupulous to try to push an outcome one way or the other. Even if the league has never had a Tim Donaghy on the payroll, it should always be concerned about the possibility. And it should always be looking for ways to diminish the influence that one person can have over the outcome of a game.

23 responses to ““Expedited review” has become a vague and inconsistent device for fixing mistakes

  1. I never fully understood the expedited review process either. Seems sometimes the NFL lets the call stand, forcing coaches to challenge. Yet other times they overturn a call on the field, even for less obvious calls without a coach having to challenge.

    Because it’s applied inconsistently, it would almost appear as if they’re using this tool to determine outcome of games.

  2. The Smith catch, on a 4th down that set up an early and very consequential score, is the kind of thing that just cannot happen in a TITLE GAME. Set an awful precedent for everything that followed.

    The AFC match was little better (sure Bengals fans would say much worse). Both games were badly tarnished, setting up a perfunctory Super Bowl that now feels like little more than an obligation vs something to look forward to.

  3. While Roger is great at putting more money in the pockets of the owners, his overall efforts at administration are woeful and is constantly being made up on the fly.
    Every thing seems to be an arbitrary patchwork of thrown together stuff.

  4. The hubris of the NFL–Just like hand picking refs for playoffs games, just another method to ensure and control the expected outcome of the game.

  5. Early on in the Vikings game the “expedited review” was used 4 times. All 4 benefitting the Eagles. I have never seen it used more than once before in a game before that.

  6. It needs to apply to obvious gamesmanship too. Mahomes is great at improvising, fun to watch and deserves every accolade, but flopping to draw a personal foul with mere seconds left in a title game is where i think we should draw the line.

  7. Maybe there is a minimum time to snap – say 30 seconds have to elapse so there are no quick count plays.

  8. Everyone knows the games are fixed. LA had no business winning the super bowl last year. LA isn’t a football town and the easiest way to justify a multibillion dollar investment is a championship. The NFL had their thumb om the scale sunday. You think Goodell is going to let the bengals talk all that crap about changing the rules and let them go to a super bowl? The fix is in.

  9. I never liked replay from the start. It never is going to be perfect. I’m waiting for the day when a play is allowed to continue because the refs think its one thing but know they can fall back in replay – and some star gets really hurt.

    But the use of ‘expedited replay’ is really shady. Why should a head coach have to wait for the right replay to be seen to challenge if the league has ALL angles available? Who is watching all angles? Seems like the NFL should catch EVERYTHING.

    Or – imo – just get rid of it all together, live with the results, stop re-inventing the game and looking for every little thing.

  10. There have always been bad and non-calls which almost always affects the losing team much to the chagrin of its fans.

  11. Even if the Ref’s were turned over to AI and there were no live ref’s involved and they knew every call was right, there would still be people out there complaining that a wrong call was made and that the AI is another example of things “being fixed” I heard it said that if you need 6 camera angles and super slow mow to see what happens it isn’t clear evidence. The catch in Philly, we didn’t see the only angle that showed it wasn’t a catch we saw after the break. I got an interesting test. Go back and watch the perfect season for Miami and then see how the ref’s performed. I have the feeling they would not have been perfect. If this evidence was found would they still be perfect. Probably not because no one or no thing is perfect

  12. “The legalization and relentless promotion of gambling causes folks to embrace like never before the notion that games are rigged,”

    Because they are.

  13. That blown 4th down “catch’ by Smith determined the outcome of the game. Without that, the 49ers take the ball over on downs and we don’t know if Purdy suffers the injury that he did.

    And, yes, it’s rigged. I’m not salty – been saying it for years. Banned a few times from this site for it. How the NFL referees gave the Rams 7 attempts to score a TD with less than 2 minutes on the clock last year (inside the 10 yard line), by use of DPI and a D-hold, makes it plain and obvious.

    It’s still entertaining, but awkwardly obvious when everything is on the line. The league has no desire for fairly called games, only the appearance of it. The leagues annual goal is to increase revenue by any means necessary. If we want it to stop, we have to turn off the games and make the league feel it.

  14. “And, yes, it’s rigged.”

    Right, that’s why teams in the largest media markets like the Jets and the Giants have been so spectacular in the last decade and why their attempts at drafting star QBs always work out. It’s why Dallas never chokes in the playoffs. It’s why we never see playoff runs from small-market teams like Carolina and Jacksonville. It’s why another small-market team, the Packers, has not been consistently successful for decades. It’s why—do I have to keep going?

    There are plenty of issues with officiating. There is also an attitude toward the game and its fans, a squeamishness that at times seems to border on actual hatred, on the part of league officials (but even more pronounced among mainstream sportswriters). The foolish legalization of online sports gambling also creates a number of moral hazards. But the idea that the NFL is any sense “rigged” is absurd.

  15. No one is claiming the “rigging” is explicit or overly obvious, it isn’t. It is subtle but measureable.

    How many times have you read that X team won despite the officials. Of course incompetence could also explain it, but I doubt it.

  16. Fixing mistakes? Seems more like fixing games.

  17. “While Roger is great at putting more money in the pockets of the owners…”

    You can stop your thought right there. That is all Roger and the owners care about.

  18. The issue for me is the inconsistency. In the Bengals vs Chiefs game, Chiefs had to challenge an obvious reach out for the first down whereas within 4 minutes, the Bengals whom were going to challenge a play had it reviewed for them so they didn’t need to use their challenge. I found a lot of inconsistency in its usage. I’m for it being used if we’re about accuracy in the calls; however, they made need to expand it’s scope OR speed up the results.
    If it’s only truly expedited for one team, it can seem unfair.

  19. This expedited review might explain something I’ve seen during a few Seahawks games. The refs will make a call on the field – lets say incomplete pass on third down by the opposing team. Then they will huddle, and change the call to a completion and a first down. Now Pete has to use a challenge to try and overturn the call, even though the refs already changed once. I’m guessing on the advice of an expedited review? But then the video evidence is deemed inconclusive. So Seattle loses the challenge and a time-out, and the other team gets a 3rd down conversion. Meanwhile, if they had stayed with the initial call on the field, forced the receiving team to use a challenge if they wanted, the video evidence would have still been inconclusive and the Seahawks would have had a stop on 3rd down.
    As a Seattle fan, seeing things like this make me wonder about rigging. Making a call on the field, changing it, THEN sending it to review only to find there’s not enough evidence to change it? If that’s true, then why did they change it on the field BEFORE the review??

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