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Get instant replay out of making judgement calls

The year has featured frustration from media and former officials confused about what is and what isn’t pass interference.



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Commentary by Mark Schultz

#NFL100 was supposed to be a year-long celebration of pro football. But sadly, the year has featured frustration from media and former officials confused about what is and what isn’t pass interference.

Former vice president of officiating and current Fox Sports officiating analyst, Mike Pereira has just about had it with instant replay. Speaking on the McNeil and Parkins show on WCSR-AM in Chicago Tuesday, he predicted that the pass interference replay rule (a one-year experiment for 2019 only) will not be back in the same form next year, if at all.

Not only has it affected officiating, but it has affected everybody watching the game because everybody’s flummoxed by it. And I understand that. I’m frustrated with it also. It’s typical of the league, and I was guilty back in my day — you overreact to one play and you put in a new rule without really understanding what the unintended consequences are. That’s what has happened here. It makes no sense to anybody — and that includes me — that you basically have two standards when it comes to pass interference, whether it’s offense or defense. It’s the standard on the field the way the officials call it and then it’s the standard in New York and how New York calls.

How frustrated is Pereira about instant replay? He was was part of the 1999 instant replay return, and he’s about ready to get rid of replay altogether.

Here I was, part of the group that put replay together, and now I’m on the other side of the coin and I would almost like to dismantle the whole damn thing. Because it’s made the game a different game, and I’m not sure that I didn’t like it better before we had it.

While I’m finding myself more and more going into Pereira’s camp, the instant replay genie is out of the bottle. The NFL will never get rid of replay completely.

High definition TV can pick out blades of grass and clearly show a player in or out of bounds or show a player with a knee down before a fumble. The problems happen when replay tries to decide judgement calls like process of the catch, pass interference or illegal use of the helmet. Was that “kinda pass interference” or was that “20 drunks in a bar will agree that was pass interference?”

Bill Vinovich in the Superdome (New Orleans Saints)

Judgement calls will always come down to one person’s view of a play. Rules are supposed to be black and white in theory, but some plays during a game are one big shade of gray. Did the hand on the shoulder tug the receiver illegally? Or did the hand on the shoulder simply rest there and not cause a foul? Did the defender hit the ball carrier hard enough and with enough malice to warrant an ejection? Or was it a football play and there’s no foul at all?

There will never be 100% public agreement on a tough judgement call. Replay reviews will never bring approval level to 100%. Instant replay should stop trying to review judgement calls. Fans don’t like it when the official in the stadium makes the call and they don’t like it when centralized replay makes a judgement call. 

The NFL could officiate every play in a computer lab and there would still be controversy.

Keep replay for boundary calls, fumbles and catches — still judgement calls, but more black and white in interpretation. When it comes to determining a foul, let the officials on the field throw flags. The electronic flag from the Art McNally Game Day Center is not fixing problems or satisfying fans and pundits.

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?"