Football Zebras™

Rule rewrite on coach’s challenge misapplied

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Week 3: Browns at Vikings (video)

Update: Bill Leavy interview with pool reporter is below, video link from Deadspin is above.

Bill Leavy’s crew is now two down on very costly, very visible downgrades. In both cases, it wasn’t judgment calls that proved to be wrong, but it was a misapplication of the rules. The latest situation was a new rule, for which there is specific and extensive offseason review, including rules documents, tests, training tapes, and the seminars held at the annual preseason officials clinic.

Vikings coach Leslie Frasier decided to challenge an aspect of a play where the Vikings recovered a muffed punt. Since it was a loose ball recovery by the Vikings, the entire play is outside of the ability for the coach to challenge (Rule 15-9-1-Note 1):

A team may challenge any reviewable play …  except when the on-field ruling is a score for either team, an interception, a fumble or backward pass that is recovered by an opponent or goes out of bounds through an opponent’s end zone, or a muffed scrimmage kick recovered by the kicking team. A team is also prohibited from challenging any ruling after the two-minute warning of each half, and throughout any overtime period.

It does not matter if Frasier wants to challenge an aspect of the play that is unrelated to the muffed punt. The entire play is under the replay official’s jurisdiction.

This rule was modified in the offseason, because the old rule of 15 yards and the replay official locked out from a review was deemed too harsh. The new rule under 15-9-2-Note 2:

If a team initiates a challenge when it is not permitted to do so, it will be charged a timeout. Penalty: For initiating a challenge when a team has exhausted its timeouts: Loss of 15 yards.

Bill Leavy’s crew assessed a 15-yard penalty on the Vikings, but the Vikings had all three timeouts. The next play was a 1st and 25, which would have been correct only if the Vikings were out of timeouts (the yardage is assessed between downs). The downgrade on this will be shared by the entire crew. Correction of any misapplication of the rules or enforcement is the responsibility of all on-field officials before the next play.  The replay official does not have the ability to intervene in the enforcement of the foul.

Leavy was asked after the game by a pool reporter if it “was a missed call on the part of the officials.”

“A timeout should have been charged instead of a fifteen yard penalty,” Leavy responded.

Leavy’s crew also had a misapplication of post-play infractions by replaying the down, rather than counting the down. On the same play, one of those infractions was a second error according to the league office.

Update 9:30 p.m.: The league declined to comment on the play. The transcript of an interview with Leavy through a pool report is below.

Pool reporter interview with Bill Leavy

Q: On the change of possession that was it ruled a muff? Did you feel that he touched the ball?

Leavy: The ruling on the field was that there was no possession by the receiving player, therefore it was a muffed kick and could not be advanced by the kicking team.

Q: Just to clarify, he has to touch it before it becomes a live ball?

Leavy: No, he has to touch it and then the other team can possess it, but they can’t advance it. If  he possessed the kick and then fumbled, the ball could be advanced.

Q: Why was that only a booth review play?

Leavy: That is the rule as far as changes of possession. If a punt is touched, if we rule a punt touched by the receiving team and then recovered by the kicking team only the booth can review that play.

Q: Is it automatically reviewed on a change of possession?

Leavy: It is automatically reviewed, yes.

Q: It’s my impression that the rule that was put in place after the Jim Schwartz situation last year is that on automatically reviewed plays that if it is challenged inappropriately that it does not result in a penalty, but in a lost timeout.

Leavy: A timeout should have been charged in lieu of fifteen yards.

Q: So that was a missed call on the part of the officials?

Leavy: A timeout should have been charged instead of a fifteen yard penalty.

Image: Pro Football Hall of Fame