Bill Belichick (right) would like the NFL's officials to get a bit more help. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
There's no question that the 2013 season marked a new low for officiating in general among refs who weren't lockout replacements. Call after call was botched during the season (especially by the often hilarious Jeff Triplette), and though different solutions have been proposed, there's not much in the pipeline that would provide real change. The league has passed a new proposal that would allow a command center in New York City to help officials with replay calls as they're being reviewed, and there's a thought that personal fouls should be reviewed, but the league's continued insistence that judgment calls such as pass interference and fumble recoveries on the field of play can't be reviewed continues to be a source of consternation. As it should be.
Throughout the years that instant replay has been in place, it's been proposed informally at times that all calls should be reviewed on a no-matter-what basis. Former VIP of officiating Mike Pereira, now a rules analyst for FOX Sports, long opposed the idea, perhaps because he didn't want the judgment calls of his officials put under a microscope. Pereira changed his tune a bit when he moved to his new role, saying during an obviously blown fumble call in the most recent NFC Championship Game that he had heard there would be some changes in the offseason. On the play in question it was clear that 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman had recovered a fumble from Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse, but the call went the other way.
But the NFL's desire for incremental change stops short of an ideal solution for many, and at the current owners meetings in Orlando, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has put forth the proposal that all penalties should be subject to challenge. Sadly, that proposal -- as well as another that would make personal fouls reviewable -- was struck down.
"I’m not proposing more challenges," he said. "All I’m saying is, as a coach, if you want to challenge a play, I think you should be able to challenge it. And why does it have to be limited to, I don’t know, there’s four or five pages in the rules book of plays that can be challenged, and now this year there are more proposals to amend that probably because of one or two plays that happened in the league last year.
"I think eventually, each year, there’s gonna be some other circumstance, situation that comes up and we’re gonna want to add that. I mean it’s four to five pages of plays that challenge procedure. Every year it gets amended and it’s hard to keep it straight. I can’t get it right. We have a coach that’s responsible for that on gameday to know exactly … I don’t know how the fans could possibly get it right if the coaches can’t get it right. For the officials themselves, it’s challenging. I think it simplifies it. And I understand it’s a judgment call. So, if I throw a challenge on an offensive holding play and they look at it, and they don’t think it’s holding, I lose the challenge. But if it’s an egregious play, I don’t see why it should not be allowed to be challenged when it affects the outcome of the game. I think we can find multiple, multiple examples of plays for example where the offense isn’t set, that if the officials could look at it, it’s very clear that they’re not set, that would nullify what subsequently happened.
"If we fundamentally want to try to get the games right and the plays right, then I don’t see why they should be excluded. Even though they’re judgment calls, but if you’re willing to use a timeout on that, I think you should be able to do that. It’s not going to slow the game down. It’s no different than if you challenged another play. So, I’m not looking for more challenges or anything else, just if you think it was a call that was missed, that you should have the opportunity to have the officials review it. That’s all. I don’t know if anybody agrees with that or not, but that’s the proposal."
Belichick also pointed to the seemingly needless complexity of certain review proposals, which may be one reason for relative delays in replay improvements.
"There is a proposal in there from the competition committee that is like a page and a half long about amending a fumble recovery in the field of play and all that. I mean, it’s hard to understand all the circumstances that have to be in place on each challenge process. It’s extensive.”
As it turns out (and as you might expect) others to agree. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was asked about Belichick's proposal by Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan on Tuesday.
"It's interesting that some of the restrictions on what you can challenge go a long way back," Carroll said of the proposal put forth by the man who replaced him in Foxboro. "We could revisit those. Bill makes the point that if it's an egregious error, let's do something about it. Just because it's on that list of crazy things that nobody can remember and you can't challenge, nobody can do it. It could factor into the results of the games being correct, and you don't get any more challenges. It's not like you can challenge 20 things per game. People may think that it could change the way the rhythm of the game goes, but it won't. I don't like replay anyway -- I never have. But if it's restricted as it is, I think there's a really valid point there."
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh also agreed when he spoke to the media at the AFC coaches' breakfast.
"It's our feeling that the technology has caught up with the game in a lot of ways," Harbaugh said. "And sometimes, we lag behind in technology a little bit. But we should come to change totally, and we should do it for the right reasons. It's about time we recognized that when the fans have a better view of the game than the referee does, you give the referee the same view as the fans. They have great ways of doing it, and I tend to agree with coach Belichick in that everything should be reviewed. Work back from what shouldn't be reviewed, not from what should. All we do every year is to add things for review. A play happens like the San Francisco play, and we say, 'Oh, that's a loophole -- that should be reviewed. That's the tail wagging the dog. Everything that can be reviewed should be reviewed, and what that does not include, we should decide how to do it, and whether it goes back to the NFL office. That sounds like a great plan ...
"But make sure the outcome is right, so that when the game is said and done, we're not blaming the officials for the outcome of the game one way or the other. We should be patting the coaches and players on the back. That's where the outcome of the game should be. We have the technology to do that. Don't put the referee in the position where the fans have a better view of the play than he does. That makes no sense."
Currently, the NFL's review system covers scoring plays, pass completions and interceptions, whether a runner or receiver is out of bounds, the recovery of a loose ball out of bounds, a quarterback pass/fumble, an illegal forward pass, forward or backward pass, a runner ruled down by contact, forward progress for a first down, the touching of a kick, football placement and spots, and whether a legal number of players is on the field at any given time.
Which, in the end, is inexcusable. The NFL is a $10 billion per year league, and the interest in getting calls right -- all the calls right -- should be primary. You could ask the Pittsburgh Steelers
about that. The Steelers missed the playoffs last season in part because Bill Leavy's crew couldn't count past six
. More needs to be done.