SALT LAKE CITY — In the time it takes to play a game in the National Football League, you could take the SAT or watch “Schindler’s List” or cook a 16-pound turkey or undergo open heart surgery or watch all four acts of "Swan Lake," including two 25-minute intermissions.
The games are long, but at least they’re tedious, which is to say there’s little action between all the timeouts for commercials and those cherished minutes when we get to watch officials stare into a hooded camera to review a play.
So you should be nervous by the recent developments in the NFL. During the offseason the league meets to vote on rules changes and that’s rarely a good thing. They’ve tweaked the game so many times it is almost unrecognizable, and now it just got worse. The league decided to expand video reviews of pass interference — both called and uncalled by the referees on the field.
Even if a defensive back — with the odds heavily stacked against him already — breaks a rule and isn’t caught, officials can pore over the video and bust him anyway. The league has become a never-ending appellate court.
As you might guess, this most recent rule change is a knee-jerk reaction to the blown non-call of an obvious pass interference penalty that cost the New Orleans Saints a probable win over the Los Angeles Rams and a trip to the Super Bowl. The penalty was so obvious that the league immediately confessed to the mistake; even the player who committed the (uncalled) penalty confessed. He had committed the crime in front of millions and got away with it.
It was an outrage. And now we’re all going to pay for it.
A blown call as blatant and as important as the one that occurred in the NFC championship game is a rare flub. Why burden the game with more replays and more stoppage of play? How often do you see an entire officiating crew freeze like deer in the headlights, every last one of them?
How about doing this instead: Hire referees who understand the rules and have the guts to make the call, and then make them accountable, with their jobs. If they swallow their whistles in an obvious game-altering penalty, especially one that has so much riding on it, they’re fired; they can ref little league games.
Instead, it’s the fans who are going to suffer as a result. Games already take more than three hours to complete, and every weekend there are games that run well over three hours. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if not for this: They consist of only about 11 minutes of actual football action. The rest of the 49-plus minutes is eaten up by commercials (there are about 100 per game), coaches’ timeouts, huddles, pointless kickoffs that usually result in touchbacks, injury timeouts, silly end-zone celebrations that are as choreographed as a Las Vegas floor show these days and all the time stoppage that follows an incomplete pass (can someone explain why they stop the clock? Just spot the ball and start the #&%!$ clock immediately).
Two years ago Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Guardian, “We want to take as much of what we call dead time, non-action, out of the game, so that we can make the game more exciting.”
Instead, he adds more dead time.
This is worse than it sounds and more than a waste of time. It could dramatically affect the game. Eric Weddle, the LA Rams safety, tweeted, “Dumbest decision ever!” Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback, tweeted, “Sounds about right. One-sided game. One sided review.” He later tweeted, “Now they can control the outcome as they see fit. Every defendable pass looks like PI in slow motion.”
He has a point. Two of them, actually. The job of covering receivers is difficult enough, but add NFL rules to the equation and now video reviews of called and uncalled penalties and their job is impossible. As to Sherman’s second point: Yes, almost every pass defense looks like interference in slow motion.6 comments on this story
Where are they going to draw the line? Why not review offensive-line play after each play — surely they’d find a holding call. (Imagine if the NBA adopted this video-review rule; there’d be a foul every trip down the floor.)
It certainly will add another stoppage of play — pardon the interruption while the previous play is under review, during which time fans will be forced to watch it from every conceivable angle, over and over and over. As columnist George Will once wrote, “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
The NFL just added more committee meetings.