The NFL season is just about halfway over and its experiment with challenging pass interference calls has already proven to be a complete disaster.
After a missed pass interference call in the crucial final minutes of the 2018 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams robbed the Saints of a trip to the Super Bowl, the NFL hastily implemented a rule that allows teams to challenge a play for offensive or defensive pass interference. Pass interference calls were already ill-defined, ambiguous and nearly always the cause of controversy, but allowing coaches to challenge the penalty has heightened the controversy and put the NFL in an embarrassing spot.
It seems every time a challenge flag is thrown, whether it is calling for pass interference or challenging a call of pass interference, referees are timid to overturn the call on the field. To make matters worse, thousands of wannabe referees at home on their couch race to Twitter to complain about calls.
Football is a physical game and trying to police the physicality is a huge responsibility for referees. Adding replay should make their jobs easier, however, playing each arm tug or push-off in super slow motion from hundreds of different angles that border on an invasion of privacy have only made officiating games harder.
Coaches are admitting their confusion. For example, according to The New York Times, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur complained, “I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore.”
The keyword here is “anymore.” LaFleur is hinting that pass interference used to be more cut-and-dry before the challenge system came into play.
Players also weighed in on the confusion. On Monday Nov. 4, on primetime television, New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate dropped a pass during an integral part of the game. Tate thought he was fouled and so did his head coach Pat Shurmur, so Shurmur threw the challenge flag. After the call was upheld and no pass interference was retroactively awarded, Tate said, “I'm really unclear what the rule is so I'm hoping we send it into the NFL and they explain to us what they see and what they think and why it wasn’t called,” according to NJ.com.
Again, Tate’s comments reflect a lot of the football world’s frustration. The NFL has been silent on the controversy that appears week in and week out. One reason may be that the NFL as an organization has no clue what pass interference is even though they ironically control the rule book and implemented this challenge system.
As the NFL remains silent on the pass interference rule, maybe they are trying to learn from past mistakes. Several years ago, debate over what constituted a catch came up, leading the NFL to release new qualifications that only clouded the rule even more. If the NFL tries to clarify what pass interference is, that very well could only act as fuel to this dumpster fire.
One solution for the NFL is to remove the rule allowing coaches to challenge pass interference calls. While this would initially give the NFL some bad publicity because they quickly abandoned the rule they thought would fix pass interference, it would save much more bad publicity as the challenges of new pass interference calls just keep piling up.
The NFL should admit their own mistake for once and the football community can begin to enjoy football again instead of being up in arms over replays.