NFL implements rule change for interferences review

By NICK COWLING
On April 1, 2019

Photo courtesy of CJ Anderson, Flickr

The offseason following each and every NFL season has become the regular window where league officials and executives can consider the airing of grievances brought by the football universe.

Following a particularly disastrous non-call in the New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams NFC Championship game where an uncalled defensive pass interference robbed the Saints of a Super Bowl berth, Saints head coach Sean Payton let his city’s displeasure be known.

With an overwhelming vote of 31-1 by the league’s owners, offensive and defensive pass interferences will be subject to video review, including non-calls on plays that should have seen flags thrown.

The outcry from fan bases and NFL defenses was immediate and understandable as there will almost assuredly be growing pains involved, but there doesn’t immediately need to be a panic over the integrity of the sport.

As with several rule changes across many sports, there are always questionable starts. The enforcement of a rule that appears disastrously infringing for a short period of time will settle itself out as officials and the players will adjust accordingly.

After the NFL beefed up roughing the passer rule early in the 2018 season, and with some expressing concern over its effect, the controversy surrounding the rule change more or less disappeared after the first few weeks of the season. Though the effects were still seen throughout, leaving many fans outraged over the NFL's transition to a softer-styled game.

As for elongating the game or being abused by head coaches, the ability to challenge these calls will not put additional challenges in a coach’s hands. They will still have the standard two challenge flags, and infractions will only be challengeable by the booth past the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter.

This isn’t to say there isn’t well-founded criticism though. Giving additional power to the coaches, as opposed to a centralized officiating entity such as a skycam referee, is a possible oversight.

There is another problem that could likely harm the spirit of the rule. Pass interference doesn’t have quite the cut and dry aspects that other infractions do. It is much more likely to be subjective and at an official’s personal discretion, making it hard to determine what is considered an egregious penalty no matter how much they slow down the replay.

That said, this rule is currently only scheduled to be in effect for the 2019 season. An end of year review will determine if it should continue in its state, be altered or get dismissed entirely.

NFL analytics have determined that the most impactful calls over the course of a typical NFL season are pass interference calls. Unlike other flags, which are measured in five, 10 and 15-yard increments, defensive pass interference is a spot foul, meaning that alongside a fresh set of downs, some teams find the line of scrimmage moving dramatic distances across the field.

Skepticism over this rule change is perfectly reasonable and healthy in order to best determine its place going forward, but NFL fans and defensive backs shouldn’t immediately panic.

There is a lot of room for growth in this, and if you were to ask our northern friends in the Canadian Football League who introduced a similar rule several years ago, the change did not destroy the integrity of the sport.

 

ncowling@ramapo.edu

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