When it comes to improving the officiating function, the NFL typically has displayed a toxic combination of cheapness and stubbornness. Last night’s USFL playoff game between Pittsburgh and Michigan revealed the folly of one of those attributes.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Maulers leading the Panthers 20-17, Michigan connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.
But there was a penalty. The officials called Michigan right tackle Josh Dunlap for a face mask foul, wiping out the score.
Enter sky judge. Mike Pereira looked at the play and saw there was no face mask foul. (It appeared to be holding of the edge of the jersey, but it clearly was not a face mask foul.) The penalty was eliminated, and the touchdown was restored.
That’s significant because, in the NFL, there would have been no similar fix. Face mask calls and non-calls can’t be reviewed. In an NFL postseason game, the late touchdown that resulted in a lead change would have been wiped out, with no way to rectify the clear and obvious officiating error.
“I hope some NFL decision-makers are watching this game, because what Mike Pereira did to clean up that call, to make sure the call was right in the critical moments of a divisional game for the right to go the championship game, it just makes the game so much better,” NBC analyst Jason Garrett said after the sequence of events unfolded. “And it’s an easy mechanism. Mike Pereira and the crew handled it the right way. And there’s justice. It’s something the NFL should look at.”
Justice applies in two ways, given this age of legalized betting. It applies to the outcome of the games — and it applies to the outcome of the wagers on the games.
At a time when the NFL needs to be far more concerned about the impact of officiating on both the outcome of the games and the outcome of the wagers on the games, the NFL needs to embrace any and all readily available devices for quickly and efficiently fixing mistakes. “Shit happens” isn’t good enough to explain officiating blunders, not when so much money hinges on the basic assumption that: (1) officials will get it right; and (2) the league will have something in place to fix things when they don’t.
The NFL is notoriously reactive, not proactive. With gambling bringing so many wolves to the NFL’s door, and with the league welcoming some of them inside in the name of further fattening up ownership, the NFL needs to spend the money necessary to identify and to remedy any and all potential problems, before they happen and not after.
Far too often, the league feigns surprise when a rule or an approach that should have been fixed creates an unjust result. And then the league promptly tries to fix it.
Or tries to fix it and fails, as the league did after the Saints were screwed in the 2018 NFC Championship by blatant, but uncalled, pass interference.
That experience ultimately has made the league seemingly paralyzed by fear of unintended consequences and/or general incompetence. But if/when there’s a major scandal, the various legislators, regulators, and prosecutors won’t accept, “Well, we knew that could be a problem, but we were reluctant to fix it because we weren’t certain we could fix it the right way, so we just lived with it.”
It’s a reckless and foolish approach. And no one within the league’s power structure seems to be taking it seriously. If they are, they’re not taking it seriously enough, or the NFL would already be using the procedure employed on Saturday night by the USFL to fix a mistake that would have otherwise marred the outcome of a playoff game.
Sure, Pittsburgh won anyway. But they won the game through their positive efforts on the field — not the negative consequences of a “human error” that the humans in charge of the sport refused to correct.
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