National Football Litigation – The Foundations of the Game in Question.

By Euan De Ste Croix (@Dissy89)

The NFL, supposedly stands for the National Football League. A complex sport which relies on its custodians in the black and white stripes for the integrity of its game to be upheld. But the 2019 season has seen many question their role. Their credibility, is the subject of much debate, particularly on the newly introduced pass interference rule, where the play has become challengeable. After 13 weeks of the season, it would seem, it’s not worth a head coach throwing the red flag, if they are not in agreement with the call in the field.

We’ve seen multiple instances of pass interference calls being missed by the officials, none more so than a recent game between the Texans and the Ravens. Wide receiver Deandre Hopkins tangles with Marlon Humphrey, who clearly pulls at his jersey, wraps his arms around him then pushes Hopkin’s right arm away. His forward movement and ability to catch the ball is clearly inhibited. A typical indicator for ref’s when making such calls, did the defensive play make an attempt to play the ball? There was none, only a tackle on a player when the ball was in the air – a foul. The play was then challenged but upheld, as it didn’t meet the supposed criteria for reversal. A flummoxing decision for many, just adding to a long list of plays to this point in the season.

Image result for deandre hopkins ravens pass interference
Image Credit: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports

After watching these questionable calls back, the question has to be raised: how can a qualified referee watch it back, on an HD monitor, across multiple angles and not over turn it?

What will stick in the throats of football purists, never mind Texans fans, if there was a change in the rule to allow coaches to challenge, then why have the officiating crews dismissed all but a few challenges? Lead by a league office memo but if the origin of the rule amendment was to correct errors in judgements, then why not use it? A failing was recognised or was seen to be recognised but the remedy offered, is not utilised. That premise is illogical on so many levels.

This melee of confusion originated from the New Orleans NFC Championship game and with the benefit of hindsight, the NFL’s competition committee will perhaps have wished they hadn’t opened this door. If we put to one side, that if the Saints had ran the ball three times, they would have taken time off the clock then this isn’t likely borne into the monster it has created.

Fast forward 9 months, and the game is no better off. The Texans should have had the ball on the 1-yard line, with the score at 0-0. These games are decided by momentum swings and that was handed to Baltimore with this error. It didn’t definitively seal a result as clearly as the decision that benefited the Rams, in handing them a Superbowl ticket, that they just merely needed to stamp. But the Hopkins non-call, certainly put a game early on a path that, by the definition of the rules, shouldn’t have happened. As many will testify, its not for the first time have the powers that be, have entangled themselves in a self-created officiating muddle.

The League head office has a track record of making rule changes based on a watershed moments, leading to mass confusion and frustration. There have been recent seasons where the the definition of something as rudimentary as a catch has been called into question. This plagued games every weekend for a season and then the it appeared that common sense prevailed and the ref’s understanding was rectified. Though, it may be worth noting, the change appeared to occur pre-Superbowl which benefited the Eagles in keeping a score on the board, despite almost identical plays being ruled as incomplete just weeks prior. Perhaps many were blindly delighted that a resolution was sought, but the timing of the change had to be called into question. 

There was also a time where the roughing the passer, the result a 15-yard penalty, was having an unhealthy bearing on games. This despite edge rushers adjusting their technique to avoid the outlined, bearing weight down on the passer when coming into contact with the ground. It again reared its head in the Green Bay, Carolina game where the offence was handed an extension of their drive for no discernible reason. This then plays a significant enough role to outweigh the talent on the field, in post game talking points.

Image result for green bay carolina roughing passer
Image Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Often used as a possible correction to the current crisis, is the addition of a sky judge. The judge would form part of the game day officiating crew, sit in the stand and be used as the video referee, which has been successful in rugby. It would make sense, and could be done with limited changes, bar hiring additional person per crew to take up the role. Could this be done mid-season? It could, of course, but likely won’t change until next season where the ability to challenge pass interference will disappear. But based on recent history, the next dumbfounding rule change is just around the corner for the 2020 season.

For those that truly care about sport and the integrity of it, perhaps an older school of through, could rightly say the Exec’s in Park Avenue, Manhattan have taken their eye off the ball. Or have they?

The intrigue of the NFL is based upon, the unrivalled athleticism of players and skill exhibited, in the midst of executing a highly strategic and tactical game plan, for a said team to win. Now the league head office in it’s infinite wisdom, have grown the value of the sport and are experts in monetising the game.

Potential consumers are changing the way the core product is being consumed and on that front, it’s difficult to argue with their approach, as accessibility of the league is at an all time high. All would seem well, but if you lift the lid even slightly on the most profitable sporting organisation, it would seem there are some worrisome trends occurring and could risk long term cash-flow projections, if they are not considered in their approach.

As the league are acutely aware of the diminishing quality of its product since the agreement of the flawed CBA with the players union. Mid-tier veteran, players have barriers to trade based on ‘Salary-cap-enomics’ and the overall level of play in the field is reduced, as they are replaced, by less talented but cheaper players.

The central theme is one of erosion, there are too many teams, that cannot under current circumstances pay enough good players, to fill out a quality roster, to then in turn fill their stadiums. Many teams have sections of their stadium they don’t even open as they know they won’t sell the tickets and risk a black-out of local television coverage. So this is a huge issue the league faces, but its one they’ve masterfully papered over the cracks with fantasy football and fan-facing analytics, for the time being. But could there be another subtle, but strategic ploy to mitigate the game’s not so obvious plight?

There could be an intriguing argument made that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company actually enjoys the bi-product of terrible officiating. As in reality, it its adds to the circus of media clamber, a rotating news cycle that evokes engagement and reaction across the globe.

On the face of it, it may seems an ill-logical hypothesis but the more its considered, perhaps its the case. Why would you agree a new contract, just this season, for further seasons of part-time officials? Why would you pay them so poorly? As the best talent have taken up cushy numbers at television networks. The good referee’s have left their positions in their droves over the last few seasons, but they were allowed to.

Again, this wouldn’t seem a logical approach to not retain those that are vital for the money to keep rolling in for the owners and its surrounding parallel industries. But the modern mindset of people have the first inclination to exhibit their reaction outwardly, on public platforms. Can they see means to further profit, in designed anarchy?

As remember – it’s not their fault, its the ref’s. They must be the only league employee’s that the corporation distances themselves when the court of public option swing in an unfavourable manner.

The basic rules of engagement of public relations – deflect, deflect and then deflect some more. So all things considered, perhaps this is by design rather than gross oversight. Whichever way, it’s a chronic situation which continues to detract from anyone’s enjoyment watching every team, every Sunday. But maybe consider Goddell & co don’t care about your feelings. They want your money, end of story. 

Until such issues are eradicated and the “Shield” find means of speeding the game up and removing mass confusion on what should be straightforward refereeing decisions, the detractors will continue. As is stands, they would be correct in referring to the top-tier of America’s most popular sports as National Football Litigation and it seems those in charge, like it that way. 

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