Is the NFL Going to Wait for the Super Bowl to Be Ruined by Bad Officiating Before Changes are Made?

Gerald Herbert / Associated Press

Here we go again.

Last month, the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to New Orleans for a crucial Week 16 game. The Steelers would be knocked out of a playoff spot with a loss and the Saints would secure home-field advantage with a win. There wasn’t any room for game-changing officiating.

It happened anyway.

The Steelers were victims to a horrible defensive pass interference call on fourth-and-one. Drew Brees threw a deep prayer to Alvin Kamara in the endzone as he was covered by Joe Haden. The ball sailed over Kamara’s head and fell incomplete. For some reason, the back line judge threw his yellow flag and the Saints were given a first down at the one-yard line.

On the first play afterwards, the Saints promptly ran it up the gut for a touchdown. They went on to win by three points.

After this embarrassing event occurred, I wrote an article proposing reform in the NFL’s officiating system. While many fans argued that a blown call in the first quarter can’t be blamed for the Steelers’ loss, I pointed out that the same thing could happen in a situation of much higher magnitude.

Surprise — it did.

In the final two minutes of regulation in the NFC Championship Game, the officiating crew in New Orleans missed a blatant defensive pass interference committed by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. It was the type of play you would show someone to explain what pass interference is. It’s a textbook call. Unlike the Tuck Rule and the Music City Miracle, there was literally no controversy over whether the play should have been legal or not. Coleman did not turn around to play the ball, it was a helmet-to-helmet hit, he impeded the receiver’s ability to play the ball, he hit him before the ball got there, and it was catchable. There’s no argument about it.

Of course, fans are still making excuses. Just like the Steelers game, the Saints are being blamed because they still had an opportunity to win. It will take a botched call on the literal final play of the Super Bowl for some people to realize the problems in the current system.

Hopefully, the NFL doesn’t wait for that to happen. The solution was obvious one month ago after Joe Haden’s phantom call and it’s obvious today. The NFL needs to utilize instant replay to minimize the impact of human error. Human error is inevitable — everything happens so quickly and no official is perfect. It is disgraceful that the NFL possesses state-of-the-art technology yet refuses to use it to uphold the integrity of the game.

Right now, the powerful technology and communications equipment to consult with replay officials and game officials at each NFL stadium on all instant replay decisions. This includes all scoring plays and turnovers. The review typically happens extremely quickly without the fans noticing. This is the key — maintaining a positive viewing experience. It’s not realistic for coaches to be able to challenge everything. Nobody wants to see the Minneapolis Miracle overturned after a three-minute review due to a minuscule penalty that didn’t have an impact on the play.

If officials miss an egregious call, the executives in New York should be able to contact the head referee and let them know to make the call. They have live footage with as many angles as they could ever possibly need. We all know that Al Riveron, Senior Vice President of Officiating, was sitting in New York and immediately knew that the officials in New Orleans messed up. Yet, there’s nothing he can do. We have to let human error by the men officiating the game decide the outcome.

In the case of Joe Haden’s phantom call, the executives in New York should also be able to order the head referee to rescind the flag. A single replay makes it extremely obvious that there was no flag. Yet, the back line judge made a poor decision in real-time, essentially granting seven free points to the Saints.

The NFL may need to consider only extending this new rule change to pass interference plays. After all, they are the most impactful and arguably the hardest to call. If the new system functions properly, it can be extended to other areas of the game.

The excuse that the Saints had a chance to win the game even after the no-call should not matter. No team should be expected to overcome atrocious officiating. No team should have to play perfectly to overcome an unfair disadvantage that the other team doesn’t have to face. Especially when there’s such an obvious solution that could fix all of our problems.

Yes, the Saints could have won anyway. Yes, the Steelers could have won anyway. Yes, the Vikings could have won anyway in 2009. What will it take for us to realize that this is nevertheless a massive problem in our game today? A fourth-down missed pass interference call on the final play of the Super Bowl? Or will certain individuals still attempt to wave it off?

The NFL can’t wait any longer. The time for change is now.