The NFL is not jumping to such early conclusions. According to multiple people familiar with the views of league leaders, NFL decision-makers believe the new system is working reasonably well, given the limitations of making judgment calls subject to replay scrutiny. The league’s leaders think the onus is on coaches, who pushed hard for the replay change in the offseason, to adjust to the rulings being made from New York by Al Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating.
“I remain concerned,” said one of those people with knowledge of the league’s inner workings, stressing there always were reservations about replay being involved in subjective calls. “But actually, I feel pretty good about where it is. The line for reversal [of an on-field call] is going to be high. If you would move that line, it’s going to be even more confusing.”
The coaches’ complaints are not surprising given that a judgment call remains a judgment call even when subjected to replay, said that person and others familiar with the league’s thinking. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the controversy surrounding the topic.
“Any time you deal in the world of subjectivity, you’re going to have issues,” that person said. “It’s been okay. It doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. I think New York has done about as well as it can with this. There are going to be growing pains with this. That was always going to be the case.”
Another person with knowledge of the NFL’s views expressed similar sentiments, saying, “It’s really about reminding the coaches: ‘This is what you asked for.’ ” Of the rulings being made by Riveron, that person said: “He’s left it in the stadium. For the vast majority it’s a stay [with the original on-field call]. Is a surprise? No.”
Coaches seem to have a different view.
“I have no idea what it is going to look like moving forward,” Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, said at a news conference last week after losing a replay challenge of an offensive pass interference call made against the Steelers during a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “If anybody does, I’d appreciate it. I don’t think any of us have a feel on what that looks like.”
Tomlin called the interference rulings being made on replay “a moving target” for coaches.
After losing a challenge on which he tried to get defensive pass interference called against the Philadelphia Eagles in a game last month, Green Bay Packers Coach Matt LaFleur said, “I really don’t know what pass interference is any more.”
But trends have emerged. Coaches, it seems, have been slow to realize it is nearly impossible to have an on-field call of pass interference overturned, even when there is only slight contact involved. There is a better chance to have a non-call reversed via replay, although even that remains a long shot.
Through the first four weeks of the season, there was only one reversal of a pass interference penalty called on the field — including both offensive and defensive pass interference — among seven replay reviews. There were six reversals among 24 replay reviews of interference non-calls. That made, in all, seven reversals after 31 reviews.
Coaches were among the leading advocates for the rule change ratified by the owners in March, on the heels of the missed pass interference call victimizing the New Orleans Saints in their loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game in January, which made interference calls and non-calls subject to replay review. Coaches were said at the time to be unanimous in their support.
The competition committee had expressed wariness, based on its long-standing reluctance to make judgment calls by the on-field officials reviewable. Owners approved the new system on a one-year basis, meaning it will be up for reconsideration after this season.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday in his weekly radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that those in the league should “be careful what you wish for.” The Cowboys’ Jason Garrett was among the coaches who pushed the hardest in March for the change. But Jones said Tuesday that “it’s very hard to sit there and add another layer of judgment” to officiating with replay reviews of interference.
“Replay, in my mind, should be there for a very egregious situation that just was blatantly missed,” Jones said. “I think the one in New Orleans, the one that started this recent rule, was egregious and should have been reviewed. But to have it on every play and have it at the will of the coach to make those calls, to have it done that way, is really kind of not as succinct as I like to see officiating.”
For now, the NFL is taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping that coaches adjust and that perception of the system changes.
“We’ve never changed a [major] rule where some people weren’t saying we’ve ruined the game,” one of those people familiar with the league’s views on the topic said. “Officiating is going to be criticized. That’s just the world we live in.”