There is a well-defined process to overturning a call
This past weekend, the Lions-Cowboys playoff game was marked by the crew picking up a pass interference flag against the Lions, setting off a huge uproar. Football officials have a set protocol that occurs before changing a call.
How do officials approach their partners and get them to change a call that they think is a mistake? If an official thinks another official threw his flag in error, he lets the play continue, and once the ball is dead he approaches the calling official and asks him what he saw. The calling official tells his partners what he has. He’ll then ask his crew-mates what they saw â€” knowing that if his partners are questioning his call they have a very good reason to do so. Once the calling official has the information from his partners it is up to him to either pick up the flag or let the call stand.
An official has to have a great deal of confidence (some call it ego) to make the tough call, but he also has to have enough confidence to set his ego aside and allow a partner to question him and possibly convince him to pick up the flag. This mechanic is also used for when a member of the crew thinks the down is wrong, there is an incorrect penalty enforcement, or a rule is being misapplied.
Unless the referee is in on the original call, he does not intervene in the conference. The only time the referee intervenes is if his crew-mates cannot agree and he has to break the tie.
What was so strange about the overturned pass interference call during the wild card game was the change in call happened after referee Pete Morelli announced the foul and enforcement. Why did it take so long for the conference to happen? Why did Morelli announce the foul, then the conference, then the overturn? Why didn’t someone call Morelli on the wireless communications system and tell him, “Hold it! We’re talking it over down here.”
The merits of the call can and will be debated, and the way the conference went down was kind of ragged, but the officials did follow the traditional protocol for over turning a call.