NFL Only Needs To Address One Thing

Nickell Robey-Coleman came in like a wrecking ball. All he wanted to do was break up the play he was beat on by Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis and he blew it all the way up. Didn’t turn around, didn’t play the ball, came in hot and went helmet to helmet. It was the referees that left the fans wrecked. Yeah, refs, you wrecked me.

It’s natural to look for solutions to prevent old problems, especially when these problems show up in the highest leverage moments of a context. Our problem is referees not being good at their jobs. Usually I give a ton of leeway to referees, mostly because they are excellent at what they do. But the missed pass interference call was absolutely stunning- it was where the action was and it was unobstructed in the moment. Two people, one ball. Now the push is to change rules and I don’t think that is what is needed.

Serena Williams was punished for coaching in the 2018 US Open finals. It was a violation of the rules and also a dubious application of the rule. The result, among other action, was to revisit the idea of coaching being allowed at Grand Slam events (coaching is allowed at other events on the tour). This always struck me as ridiculous because the rule is a fairly good one for the quality of the event and the failure was on the part of the coach and official.

Similarly, I am not certain that making pass interference a reviewable call automatically or allowing it to be challenged is a sound idea in response to this error. The Canadian Football League has allowed coaches the right to challenge pass interference with mixed results. The upside is situations like the Rams/Saints NFC Championship would be resolved for the better. It was that obvious. The downside is the application of a judgment that will be stripped away from live action. For the record, I am very pro-review in sports as accuracy is a value I have in my sporting entertainment life. But pass interference is hard to determine when slowing things down AND contact is maintained over the duration of a play. We frequently see players jockeying for position with both players pushing down the sidelines. Is the premium places on the final action? What do we do with both players holding and grappling after five yards? Do we trust the review system to actually consistently and fairly make these assessments (not sure we should since defining a catch is still a mystery from week to week).

The only thing that should be changed is overtime. We were gifted two overtime games with a recently tweaked system that still provides the fairness and excitement of football without the gimmicks of scoring (enough) first.

I have an idea of the perfect overtime if we agree about the general concerns of a good overtime: don’t want to put too much weight on the coin toss; some degree of fairness in all phases of a team on display; player safety; cannot go on forever but should be dramatic. We can add more but these issues emerge more than others.

My solution: modified college football overtime rules. The concept of both offenses (and defenses) being guaranteed on the field is a good one as it does represent a greater opportunity of the team, as a collective, to determine the outcome. College football gets this right but starting from the 25 for professionals is too close. So lets go to the 50 yard line. Each team is guaranteed an offensive/defensive possession. It also makes the coin toss a bit more strategic: do you defer to know exactly what you need to do on offense or do you elect to accept the ball and set the bar. That is an underrated feature of the overtime structure. We eliminate kickoffs which is good but don’t totally eliminate kickers. Chicagoans may disagree but the move to demean or eliminate kickers is dumb. It’s a critical part of the game and a different skill set that is another plane for strategy in winning. Starting from the 50 can allow teams to get into field goal range but from a distance that is not automatic, like inside the 25.

It stinks that the games ended without the best processes: a missed call and not giving us a chance to see Patrick Mahomes match Tom Brady. That said, we shouldn’t give in to our emotional selves and just angrily throw things against the wall. Fix the overtime and instruct referees to watch the action in front of them. Games are long enough and more replays about judgement calls won’t make people happy. Most of the time.

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