For a system that is designed to make sure that the officials make the right call, one would hope that maybe you should consider getting that to work correctly before rolling it out there. Of course I’m talking about the NFL and instant replay as most recently highlighted by Nick Saban’s half-hearted attempt to challenge a play in the season opener in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Obviously, as the rule stands Saban was most likely in the wrong in that situation but that certainly doesn’t mean the rule itself isn’t bullshit.
I guess as good a spot as any to start with would be the league’s reaction to the incident in the Dolphin-Steeler’s game. I could go online and find the actual quote but seeing as how I’ve heard it 78 times on ESPN I’m just going to paraphrase it. Basically, the league said that since they took away the pagers three years ago the referees and league have made it known that for the purpose of challenging a play coaches are allowed to run down the sideline, travel outside the coaching box, and basically make themselves a nuisance to make it known they want to challenge the last play. The league also added that whether or not the challenge flag was thrown prior to the next snap is not a reviewable play.
OK, now lets analyze this policy cause it seems no one in the league office can be bothered while they are counting all their money. First, the reason they took the paging system away after a season because they couldn’t seem to get it to work right. Excuse me? The most lucrative professional sport in the whole world can’t figure out a system that drug dealers mastered in the late 80’s? I mean really how is this an acceptable explanation from the NFL? In the tradition of communications companies sponsoring coach’s headsets the NFL could have easily reached out to Verizon, or AT&T to put together something that works in the form of communication between the referee and the coaches. Why not try cell phones or something, I mean maybe the highlight of the Chicago Cubs season was going to a wireless bullpen phone sponsored by Motorola. (Seriously, that is the most exciting I have to report about the Cubs season, but hey we only are a couple games away from the number 1 pick, if only the Royals can get hot these last twenty games). I guess this just points out my confusion as to why in the most technologically advanced society, in a multi-billion dollar a year industry, we are relying on handkerchiefs thrown around as the best means of communication.
I realize part of this has to fall on the coaches if the NFL is married to the red flag idea, but telling the coaches they have to run down the field and make themselves known. The NFL has to be concerned about wrongful death lawsuits with this one, because there are many latent dangers. The idea of Bill Parcells or Andy Reid running down the sideline waving their arms and trying to through a flag is near vomit inducing. And those are only two of the litany of NFL coaches that are just asking for a coronary at this point. Besides that, no one has given consideration to how wired up these coaches have become. I can see a coach caught up in the heat of the moment taking off down the sideline only to be snapped off his feet when that cord pulls taught. Or if the lowly kid in charge of keeping that cord rolled up if off on a smoke break and it gets wrapped around a players leg, that’s a knee or ankle injury waiting to happen. Picture Jim Mora Jr. trying to tell the Falcon’s owner and fans how he tore Mike Vick’s ACL trying to challenge where the ball was spotted in the second quarter.
The idea that the referees have no responsibility in this system is also kind of insane. As Saban points out, before he can decide to challenge most plays he has to get word from someone who saw a replay and can let him know if using a challenge would be worthwhile. In a close game like Thursday night’s, the risk of losing a timeout late in the game on an ill advised challenge could turn out to be a costly mistake. The play from Thursday is a prime example, and if you didn’t see it, it basically consisted of a white dude running down the sideline slowing down as he got close and was finally hit about 5 yards short of the end zone but managed to stretch out for what was called a touchdown. Seeing the replay it was clear that you could have either called him out around the 4 yard line or down at the same point, either one would have done really. I’m not criticizing the original call, because the ref did have to trail a long play running behind the receiver and wasn’t in the best position to make the call (because he didn’t have time to get there), and really this is exactly the type of thing replay is designed to rectify. Where the officials did screw up is not paying a little attention to the Miami sideline before the extra point. So yeah, close game, huge play, right down the sideline and no one thinks the Dolphins may want to take a look at that play in the 4th quarter? Not only that but despite Saban’s throwing the flag like Albert Pujol’s adopted son it was less than 10 yards away from an official. I realize that the officials have so much to worry about on extra points, like counting players and watching the play clock, but maybe one should be assigned to watch the opposing coach following a score. I realize that is a novel concept, but if the NFL is going to handicap (and no that wasn’t another joke about Pujol’s kid) the coaches with this stupid system why not try to make it a little more practical to use.
College football recently instituted a replay system in most of the major conferences following the lead of the Big Ten and they don’t really seem to be exhibiting the same problems. I hate to say it, but even the NHL seems to be able to pull the magin feat of video replay off better than the NFL, and how many things can you really say that the NHL handles better than the NFL? Yeah that probably makes one, which is exactly my point. Even in MLB where despite the talk of reviewing certain plays has been around for awhile seems to be handleing the situation better than the NFL. At least MLB realizes they wouldn’t be able to do it right so they don’t even bother attempting. Despite all of its successes it seems the NFL is plauged by this problem, which one would think could be fixed by all the smart people working in the league offices getting together for a couple hours and just try something different cause it looks like almost anything would be better at this point.