The fact that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle has fined Pittsburg's Joe Green $5,000 for his blatant foul against Denver's Paul Howard adds a new dimension to the controversy surrounding the use of videotape replays.
Over the last several years, there has been increasing evidence in the form of "nonfumbles" and "nonpenalties" instantly made obvious to millions by means of replays in the face of which the commissioner's office has buried its head in the sand. To recognize by means of replay a "nonpenalty," such as Greene's foul, is a substantial departure from the commissioner's record.
THe league has generally advanced three reasons for not relying on replays of difficuit or controversial plays: the cost involved in additional camera placements, the inherent game delays while replays are reviewed and the need for officials to quickly make a decision, even at the risk of human error.Clearly, the third reason had no bearing on the Greene decision for if one were to rely on the finality of the officials' actions during the game, there was no foul and no penalty and therefore there should be no fine.
If the third reason has no Validity in light of the Greene fine, the first and second have little. It is not necessary (although possible desirable) to add cameras for regular-season television coverage. Fortunately, extra cameras are assigned by the network for playoff and Monday night games as a matter of course.If the present opportunity to review videotapes is taken advantage of, it would surely serve to minimize, if not eliminate, human error.
As for delay, an alternate official is normally assigned to each game. Why can't that official monitor the replays on or near the field and why couldn't he be designated the final arbiter on such plays when the game officials seek his assistance and where he is able (as with the Lytle "non-fumble") to clarify the issue?
At the heart of the issue, however, is the apparent policy of the commissioner's office to hold all NFL officials infallible. Why, in the light of repeated replays and still photographs, no official can admit being wrong escapes the average fan and not without good reason.
If the official role of replays is ever to be determined, can't we initiate the diaglogue with consistency and honesty rather than with the arbitrary policies followed to date?