NFL’s New Pass Interference Rule Creates More Problems Than Solutions

At the NFL Owners Meeting in March, the owners approved a rule change that would make pass interference susceptible to review.

Application of the Rule

The NFL Competition Committee posted a tweet last week that clarified how this new rule will be applied. This tweet confirmed that the rule will be in effect in 2019 only.

According to ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio, it also specifies that: “automatic review will be available for pass interference calls and non-calls in the final two minutes under normal circumstances, specifically and most importantly in the final two minutes of either half. “

It also clarifies the scenarios in which the replay official can rule for a video review. It states that the replay official must see “clear and obvious evidence” of a mistake by the officials. However, the NFL currently has no baseline standard for what entails “clear and obvious evidence”. Vague language has become a problem in the rulebook in the past when they failed to define a “football move” in the instance of a catch.

The Problems

It is still not concrete what constitues as clear and obvious evidence. Rich Eisen discussed this in a piece he wrote in place of Peter King‘s usual Monday story for NBC Sports.

In this piece, Eisen focuses on a presentation given by NFL head of officiating, Alberto Riveron, to the NFL Media Group at their annual talent symposium. Everyone in the audience covers football for a living. Riveron played various clips of plays that may fall into this criteria. The audience then had to decide whether or not pass interference had been committed.

Eisen wrote:

“For about 20 minutes, Riveron screened a half-dozen plays for OPI and DPI and asked us to decide what to do in real-time just as his officials will have to do. There wasn’t consensus in the room once. Not once.”

He continued:

“Riveron would show a sequence involving a possible offensive pass interference, pause the play and ask the room if we would throw a flag for OPI. Half of the room would say ‘yes’ and the other half ‘no.’ Then, he would ask us if there was no penalty called, would we, as the replay official, put a flag down on the field for OPI. Half the room said ‘yes’ and the other half of the room said ‘no.’”

John Parry on the Rule

Former referree John Parry discussed this rule change in an interview with Jonathan Jones of SI.com. He is not sure that this rule change will entirely fix the problem and potentially opens up a whole new set of problems for the NFL.

“What do I think of it? I’ve wrestled with this since late February from being involved with the competition committee, and I don’t think a day goes by where I wonder is this good? Could this be done differently? Is there a better way? I have tried to convince myself that where we’re headed is good. I can’t get there, I just can’t get there. I’m struggling with it. “

He continues to say that the NFL has opened “Pandora’s Box” with this rule change.

Future Implications

The expansion of replay review has produced split opinions. On one hand, it corrects wrong calls by officials. On the other hand, it creates more problems by giving people the ability to scrutinize little details of every play.

Video review expansion compounds problems seeing as it doesn’t always fix the issue of officiating error. It also leads to plays that have little effect on the game being closely investigated.

In 2020, the NFL will have to make a tough decision on how to advance regarding review of pass interference. It will need to eliminate as much officiating error as possible while not interfering with the game. The league may be headed down a dangerous path that they can’t escape if they can’t find a way to fix this problem.

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