This past year saw the continued proliferation of replay review in sports. VAR came to the Women’s World Cup, the NBA instituted coach’s challenges and the NFL expanded its replay procedures to make pass interference penalties a reviewable play.
In theory, these changes are supposed to prevent mistakes from being made. In practice, they often just highlight flaws in how sports are officiated. You realize that in sports, nothing is perfect. Such is being a sports fan.
There weren’t more officiating blunders in 2019 than any other year, but there were a few very notable ones. Although only one gaffe was bad enough that it forced the NFL to make a rule change, fans still found plenty to get up in arms about over the past 12 months. Let’s look at 10 of the worst calls from 2019.
10. Cody Eakin called for major penalty in Game 7 vs. Sharks
Hockey is rough. Playoff hockey is rougher. And in a Stanley Cup playoff Game 7, usually anything goes. Not for Golden Knights center Cody Eakin, though.
Eakin was handed a five-minute major penalty for cross-checking in Game 7 of Vegas’s first-round playoff series against the Sharks after the hit on Joe Pavelski you see above. Pavelski was injured on the play, but it wasn’t as a result of Eakin’s hit.
You can argue about whether Eakin should have been whistled for a penalty but there’s no doubt that a five-minute major was uncalled for.
To make matters worse, the Sharks scored four goals while Eakin was in the box and went on to win in overtime. The NHL later apologized to the Golden Knights for the mistake.
9. Angel Hernandez called this a ball
It’s a bad thing when you know an umpire’s name, and people know Angel Hernandez’s name for cases just like this. The way Masahiro Tanaka froze in his tracks tells you everything you need to know.
Here’s where MLB’s pitch-tracking software plotted the pitch.
Yeah, pretty much dead center.
8. Two bogus tripping calls go against the Cowboys
If these plays had occurred in a playoff game, would the NFL have added tripping to its list of reviewable calls? Probably not, but that won’t make Cowboys fans any happier after they were victimized by two tripping calls in a tight game against the Patriots.
The second trip was called on Travis Frederick (No. 72 in the second clip above) on third down with two two minutes to play and Dallas trailing by four points. It negated a first down and instead forced the Cowboys into a third-and-11 situation. They turned the ball over on downs and the Patriots were able to run out the clock.
7. Kevin Durant ruled not out of bounds despite being halfway across the Bay
KD didn’t just put a toe on the line there. He had both feet well outside the boundary and still wasn’t called for being out of bounds.
Durant knew he got away with one, too.
Luckily for the Rockets, James Harden was still able to win the game with a last-second three.
6. N’Keal Harry denied a TD vs. Chiefs
Sometimes, calls do go against the Patriots.
In New England’s loss to the Chiefs, the Pats were robbed of a touchdown when N’Keal Harry was ruled to have gone out of bounds short of the goal line. He hadn’t, and the Patriots—because Bill Belichick had already used two challenges, one unsuccessfully—couldn’t challenge the play.
Instead of a touchdown, the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal on the drive and ended up losing by six.
It’s not especially egregious that the official thought Harry’s foot was on the line. What makes this play frustrating, though, is that all scoring plays are reviewed, so if the official thought Harry was close to going out of bounds he could have just let Harry into the end zone and let the booth review it.
5. Missed double-dribble screws Auburn in Final Four
Virginia redeemed its historic loss to UMBC by winning the 2019 national championship, but not without a little help from the men in stripes during the Final Four.
With 5.4 seconds to play and the Cavaliers trailing 62–60, Virginia’s Ty Jerome dribbled the ball off his foot, regained possession and was fouled. What should have been a turnover that likely would have allowed Auburn to extend its lead and run valuable time off the clock was simply ignored and Virginia was able to win the game in dramatic fashion.
4. Jonathan Jones mugs Golden Tate
The application of the NFL’s new pass interference rule has been endlessly frustrating. At times, it appears like the league’s officials are willfully refusing to admit to their mistakes on review.
Take this play from Week 6’s Giants-Patriots game for example. Anybody sitting at home would tell you that Jones should have been flagged for pass interference for contacting Tate before the ball arrived. That’s what Giants coach Pat Shurmur was thinking when he threw the challenge flag. The replay crew disagreed. No penalty.
3. Marlon Humphrey mauls DeAndre Hopkins
Just like the call above, Humphrey was not called for pass interference, even after a challenge. What makes this play worse than the Jones play, though, is that Humphrey interfered with Hopkins in two ways. Not only did he grab the arm of Hopkins before the ball arrived, he also yanked on the receiver’s jersey.
2. James Harden’s dunk doesn’t count
There are some things that are so simple they probably don’t even bother teaching them when you train to be an NBA referee, like, if the ball goes through the hoop, that’s a basket. And yet, the guys on the floor for this Rockets-Spurs game didn’t give Houston two points when James Harden dunked the ball.
The play occurred during a furious San Antonio comeback that saw the Spurs overcome a deficit that had swelled to as many as 22. Houston lost in double overtime and filed a protest with the league arguing that the uncounted basket changed the outcome of the game. It was denied.
1. Missed pass interference by Nickell Robey-Coleman on Tommylee Lewis
Obviously this has to land in the top spot. No other play was scrutinized as closely this year as this one. No other play forced the NFL to hastily adopt a rule change. No other blown call occurred at such a big spot in such a big game.