ATLANTA — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell provided the league’s first public admission Wednesday that its officials erred with their pass interference non-call late in the NFC championship game that went a long way toward putting the Los Angeles Rams, rather than the New Orleans Saints, in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Goodell, speaking at his annual state-of-the-league address, said the league’s competition committee will consider the prospect of making interference rulings subject to review by instant replay, although he stopped short of declaring that he favors such a modification to the sport’s replay system. He said he never considered overturning the result of the game and ordering it to be replayed from the point of the missed call, believing that he does not possess the authority to do so even if so inclined.
“It’s a play that should be called,” Goodell said. “We’re going to make sure that we do everything possible to address the issues going forward and see if there are improvements we can make with instant replay or anything else. I understand the emotions.”
The tumult over the interference non-call has continued into Super Bowl week.
“We understand the frustration that they feel right now,” Goodell said of the Saints and their fans. “We certainly want to address that. Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion postgame, it’s never a good outcome for us. We know that. Our clubs know that. Our officials know that. But we also know our officials are human.”
Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, admitted to Saints Coach Sean Payton after the game that interference should have been called against the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman for an early hit on the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis. Robey-Coleman was fined for an illegal hit on Lewis on the play that also went uncalled.
Goodell said he subsequently spoke to Payton, a member of the competition committee, and to Saints owner Gayle Benson. He defended the league’s decision not to make a public acknowledgment of the officiating mistake until Wednesday, a week and a half after the game.
“We addressed it immediately after the game,” Goodell said. “We spoke to the coach. The coach announced the conversation, the fact that the play should have been called. We had several conversations . . . over the next several days. That’s our process. That’s what we always do, particularly with judgment calls.”
The league office’s public silence on the matter drew criticism, which continued earlier Wednesday with comments made by former Saints running back Reggie Bush.
“The people, the fans, the players, coaches, everybody is owed an explanation as to why and to how they’re going to fix it going forward,” said Bush, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “And nobody was given any of that. I think that’s a disservice to the fan base, to the shield. . . . The player is held accountable, but not the refs or the league."
Goodell noted that the competition committee in the past has been against making judgment calls such as pass interference subject to replay. But he said the league must consider potential changes.
“Technology is not going to solve all those issues,” Goodell said. “The game is not officiated by robots. It’s not going to be. But we have to continue to go down that path.”
Any rule change would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 teams. If ratified, it would take effect next season.
“We will look again at instant replay,” Goodell said. “There have been a variety of proposals over the last probably 15, 20 years of should replay be expanded. It does not cover judgment calls. This was a judgment call. The other complication is that it was a no-call.
“Our coaches and clubs have been very resistant and there has not been support to date about having a replay official or somebody in [the league’s officiating department in] New York throw a flag when there’s no flag. They have not voted for that in the past. It doesn’t mean that they won’t [now]. It’s something that we’re going to put to the competition committee, see if there’s an answer to that.”
Goodell refrained from endorsing a specific remedy, as he has done in the past during Super Bowl week with some other rule-change issues.
“My role,” he said, “is to make sure the competition committee understands that this is critical for us to analyze, to evaluate and try to see if there is a better solution than what we have today. ”
The NFL rule book empowers Goodell to overturn the result of a game or to order all or part of a game to be replayed for an extraordinarily unfair act. But the rule book also says the commissioner will not take such action based on a complaint by a team over a judgment call by the officials. Goodell cited that clause in the rule book, saying he was not authorized to act in this case.
“That was not a consideration,” Goodell said.
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