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Time to change NFL pass interference rule?



In officiating circles, there is a saying among the deep officials (back judge, side judge, and field judge) that the game for them is 58 minutes of boredom and two minutes of sheer terror.  For those officials, pass interference is one of those calls that contributes to that terror.

When a flag flies on a pass play, the crowd roars or groans, both sidelines start jumping, coaches scream, and players gesticulate wildly.  That’s because pass interference is a very big call.  A defensive pass interference call gives the offense an automatic first down and gains the offense a nice chunk of free yardage.  In the NFL when the offense commits pass interference they lose 10 yards and repeat the down.  When the defense commits pass interference, the offense gets an automatic first down and the ball is placed at the spot of the foul.  The penalty yardage against the defense could be anywhere between one and 99 yards.  There is a growing group of people, including former NFL vice president for officiating, Mike Pereira, who think the rule needs to be revised.

So, how is pass interference adjudicated in college and high school?  In high school, when there is defensive pass interference (DPI), the penalty enforcement is 15-yards and an automatic first down.  In the NCAA, the penalty is an automatic first down, and a 15-yard penalty.  If the spot of the foul is less than 15-yards from the previous spot, the officials place the ball at the spot of the foul.  For example, if the offense is on its own 20-yard line and there is DPI at the 27-yard line, the offense gets the ball, first-and-10 at the 27.  If the spot of the foul is the 50-yard line, it is first-and-10 for the offense its 35-yard line. 

Pereira advocates that the NFL adopt the NCAA penalty enforcement.  He thinks that the current enforcement for DPI is antiquated.  The enforcement was created at a time when the passing game was a more rare commodity.  Today, the NFL is a passing league, the receivers and defenders are very advanced in technique, and Pereira says pass interference is one of the most difficult judgement calls for an official to make.  People who advocate changing the DPI penalty enforcement say the current enforcement is too severe against the defense. 

In my opinion, Pereira’s arguments deserve a hearing and if a rule change is warranted, the NCAA penalty enforcement for DPI makes the most sense; however the NFL wants scoring and offense so I don’t think a change will be forthcoming.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"