Of all the plays that fans could point to in the NFL that are consistently poorly officiated, the inevitable lack of calls that accompany a Hail Mary might be near the top of the list. And while an expansion of instant replay rules will now allow teams to challenge questionable pass interference calls, even when they are not flagged on the field, the league has already made it clear that Hail Mary plays will be exempt from this amendment.
In a rather strange admission during a press briefing at the NFL Spring Meeting, while Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay discussed how the league would attempt to deal with the play when the new rules came into effect, he also shone a light on the absurd way referees currently approach the play.
“Remember, in that play, officiating-wise, the philosophy has been since I have been in the League, it is survival of the fittest. Everybody jumps. Everybody is shoving, everybody is trying to get the ball, knock it down, or catch it. We tell the officials, make sure you see if anybody gets pulled down or anybody gets dragged down, that is pass interference.”
A philosophy that seemed not to sit well with Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy.
Why should illegal activity be allowed because it’s the last play of the game? Don’t the rules apply all the time? Or is it just parts of the play? Are they saying you can’t be offsides, linemen can’t hold, but receivers and DBs can push off or grab. That’s ridiculous. https://t.co/GxeUBuF0xM— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) June 1, 2019
And with the NFL intending to exclude Hail Marys from the list of reviewable pass interference plays, a new definition will need to be established beyond “survival of the fittest”, one that McKay could see ultimately changing the play altogether.
“I’d hate to see replay do this to us but, you could say we are just going to play it differently. And they are going to have to play it differently. That would be replay again impacting the game. But, the way the game has been played and the way that play has been played and the way that play has been officiated has been different because of the nature of the play.”
However, given the league’s struggles to define something as relatively simple as “what is a catch?”, it seems reasonable to assume that working out what constituents a Hail Mary and how to officiate it will be far more difficult for this group, especially without the help of replay to correct it.