clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It might take something crazy to fix the NFL’s officiating problem, so here’s a crazy idea

Bad calls an no-calls are determining game outcomes, so the league must finally face the fact that something needs to be done.

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With questionable calls (or lack of a call all together) in both the AFC and NFC championship games, the issue of officiating in the NFL has been brought out on a national level. Steelers fans understand the problem has been going on, both in 2018 and prior. But with such high-profile decisions in marquee games, there have been many questions about the possibility of challenging and reviewing penalties. Implementing such a drastic change has many people concerned about opening a can of worms the league doesn’t want to have to take years to iron out. But does the NFL want poor officiating to be there story line in the biggest games of the season?

I think it is a nearly universal opinion there needs to be improvements in officiating in the NFL. Eliminating terrible calls and making sure obviously missed calls don’t change the outcome of a game should be the highest priority. The problem is figuring out a system in which this can be done while still maintaining the integrity of the game and not disrupting the flow more than necessary. Some review plays seem to drag on an unreasonable amount of time when the first look at the play shows if there will really be enough to overturn the call or not. Is more replay the answer? Would more officials on the field help?

Since it would take an extreme, somewhat ludicrous idea to help correct horrendous calls in the NFL, it doesn’t mean an attempt can’t be made to fix the problem. I’ve come up with my own crazy idea. I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I’m sure the wonderful users here at BTSC will help me find the flaws. But it is an idea as a starting point. So here it goes…

Beginning in 2014, senior officials in New York began communicating with the head official during the review process. On scoring plays, turnovers, and any play inside of two minutes of the half or in overtime, the decision to review these plays comes from “above.” Is there really a reason why such an official cannot decide the play was called incorrectly due to a penalty, whether it wasn’t called or was called and should not have been? The argument for this in the past has always been about the officials and their “judgment calls.” But every call by an official is a judgment call. The official has to judge if a runner was down or not. The official has the judge if the ball crosses the goal line. Every call in the game comes from the judgment of the official.

Perhaps a better way to sum it up is that these penalties are subjective, and not necessarily concrete. What one official sees on the field versus what another official sees on the TV screen can be a completely different subjective viewpoint. Should an official on the field who allows some contact on a pass play be overruled by an official in the booth who thinks any contact should always be pass interference?

I’ve set it up long enough. What I believe the NFL should implement is three independent officials in the booth, none of which have contact with the other. Whether or not these officials are in stadium or in New York makes no difference. While watching the game, if any one of these officials feel a penalty was missed from being called, or a penalty which was called should not have been, they press the alert button. The only way the official is buzzed to review a play is if all three officials buzz an alert on the same play. The subjective opinion of each official will not influence a change on the field, but all three officials agreeing independently that a call should be changed would trigger a review.

At this point, the head official goes to the replay area as normally done. Once they get on the headset, all three booth officials along with the official on the field will be in communication with each other to share their feelings about the play. The head official views the replays, and with the input of the other three officials and what they saw, a penalty can be called or overturned based on “clear and obvious video evidence.”

In this system, there would be no coaches challenges for penalties. The only way a penalty would be reviewed is from a unanimous alert from the three video officials at any point in the game. Another wrinkle which could be added is to also involve the official closest to the play where the penalty was or was not called. If that official was added to the mix, they could explain the reasoning for the penalty or lack thereof to the replay officials, who could then show them on the replay why they felt a call needed to be changed. If all officials are in agreement, the call on the field would then be overturned.

One question which could be asked is why three officials? Why not just have one official? In my opinion, the three officials would give a situation where only the obvious calls would be reviewed. With just one official, it’s basically one opinion versus the other. Going with three officials, it would take three varying sources all agreeing together, reducing situations where reviews happen which would not be overturned.

With such a system in place, I believe the pass interference at the end of the NFC championship game would have eventually been called. Additionally, the roughing the passer against Tom Brady in the AFC championship game would’ve been overturned. There would be multiple calls changed throughout the Steelers season, including two separate touchdowns against San Diego and the first DPI penalty on Joe Haden against New Orleans (the second one would not have been egregious enough to set off the alert).

Just to clarify, an official should not be setting off an alert for, “well maybe that wasn’t right.” Close calls should not even be reviewed. It’s the terrible, obvious calls that the league really needs to fix. And implementing this system could slow down the game minimally as long as officials improve their on field performance, while the video officials are not stopping the game for borderline calls. The NFL office would also have a report of plays where replay officials buzzed in but we’re not unanimous and can use these reports as a grading tool for their reply officials.

I feel this would be a win–win situation for everyone. An official would get the chance to fix a bad call which could determine the outcome of the game. For example, does anyone really believe the official who didn’t call the pass interference penalty in the NFC championship game still feels it was the correct call? If this system were implemented, fans would hopefully not be as outraged about terrible calls. And, most importantly, the players on the field would be more of the determining factor as to who wins the game.

Would this system have an increased cost to implement? Of course it would. But for the multi-billion dollar business of the NFL, isn’t having a better product more important than saving the money? A better product would increase revenue which would possibly be lost for paying to implement penalty reviews.

So there you have it.

Now it’s your turn. Does this system seem as if it is something which could work? Are there things to be tweaked? What should be added or what should be taken away? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below!