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NFL should run far away from reviewable roughing the passer rule proposal

The NFL should not make roughing the passer fouls subject to review.



The NFL will reportedly consider changing the rules to make roughing the passer a reviewable play for the 2021 NFL season. This appears to be a proposal submitted to the Competition Committee from one or more teams.

It is a proposal that should send shivers down everyone’s spine.

Over the years, the NFL has added more protections to the quarterback — the face of the franchise and most prized, precious position on a pro football team. In the past, roughing the passer was a pretty cut-and-dried call. Now it is quite nuanced, and has become a source of frustration for many.

But, trust me, making this foul a reviewable play is not the answer. Why? Just look at the pass interference rule experiment from 2019. After several high profile pass interference controversies in 2018, the NFL experimented with having pass interference a reviewable foul for 2019. It was a disaster, and not renewed after just one season.

The NFL should have learned its lesson after 2019 — making subjective calls reviewable is not the silver bullet everyone hopes. Subjective calls are open to people’s interpretation, opinion and belief. While centralized replay reviewed pass interference calls, it was still one person’s opinion that made the call — and did nothing to quell pass interference controversies. Decisions also had to elevate to the replay standard of clear and obvious, which further curtailed the judgment call.

Instant replay is great for boundary calls — did both feet get down in bounds, was the knee down before the fumble, did the ball break the plane of the goal. But, even those objective calls at times draw howls of protest from the team and fans on the short end of the replay review.

What’s the answer for better roughing the passer calls? Late last season, the NFL had the umpire start flagging some roughing the passer fouls. In the past, the referee, and only the referee, was responsible for roughing the passer. Now, with the umpire in the backfield, they can help the referee, especially when the referee was straight-lined or screened by other players.

Walt Anderson is senior vice president of officiating training and development. He proved to be an innovator and strong teacher while supervisor of officials in the the Big 12 college football conference. Anderson will make sure the referees and umpires have all the proper training tools they need to make roughing the passer as consistent and uniform as possible.

The NFL is committed to more consistent roughing the passer calls in 2021. But, trust me — making the calls reviewable is not the way to go.

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?"