Monday, October 25, 2010

The Idiocy of the NFL Challenge Rule



Instant replay in the NFL is a good thing. It's hard to remember that not too long ago the NFL didn't allow coaches to challenge, didn't have final two-minute booth reviews, and many terrible calls by the officials weren't fixed. There's no arguing that the current replay system in the NFL is far better than not having one at all. However, that doesn't mean it's a good system.

It's worth noting that last night's Vikings-Packers game is not the reason I feel the way I do about instant replay, but with it fresh in most people's minds it is the best game to use as an example.

So how do I feel about the current instant replay system? I think it's idiotic. In case you don't know the rules, each NFL coach is allowed two challenges per game. If he disagrees with a call on the field, thinking the ref botched the call, he can challenge it. The ref will then look at replays to determine if the call was indeed right or wrong. If the coach is wrong, though, he loses a timeout. If he gets both challenges right, he's awarded a third challenge. The coach is not allowed to challenge a play in the final two minutes of either half, because the booth automatically reviews those plays. The thought process with that was that they didn't want a bad call to end a game, and if coaches were out of timeouts at that point they would be unable to challenge themselves. This thought process seems logical enough, but the last time I checked a touchdown in the first ten seconds of the game counts for exactly the same amount of points as a touchdown in the final ten seconds.

I think the NFL should use the same system the Big Ten has used over the last couple of years, which is that every review comes from the booth. In my opinion, there's no arguing this is the best system currently available. Think about how the NFL system currently is run for a minute. NFL coaches are being penalized because of human error. The goal should be to get every call right, and with technology the way it is today there's no excuse not to. There always will be plays that are inconclusive, and that's fine, because instant replay can't show us everything.

There's simply no reason though that an NFL coach should have to risk a timeout by challenging a call because it appears as if the ref missed a call. Sure, if the coach is right and the ref made the wrong call, he doesn't lose a timeout. But with teams constantly running quick plays after controversial calls to avoid a challenge, it's difficult for coaches to get confirmation from someone in their team's booth and throw the challenge flag in time. This results in a gut-feeling and what they saw live while the players were moving 100 miles per hour. That's why so many coaches have poor challenge records.

The Vikings didn't lose last night because of the refs. They had every opportunity to win that game and simply failed to do so. However, there were two situations where the challenge rule hurt the team involved. One happened to the Vikings, and one happened to the Packers.

When the Packers scored their second touchdown, it was on a third and long in the red zone. Packers tight end Andrew Quarless appeared to catch the ball and get his backside barely in bounds, and the ref called it a touchdown. However, the replay clearly showed that Quarless juggled the ball as he went out of bounds, and there's no doubt the call would have been overturned if it had indeed been challenged. Vikes fans love to blame Childress for not challenging, and yes he absolutely should have, but keep in mind he's on the sideline. Watching live it looked like Quarless caught the ball cleanly; the only issue appeared to be whether he got two feet in. Once his backside hits in bounds, though, it counts as two feet. The ref was right there, so Childress undoubtedly assumed he'd lose the challenge. Someone in the Vikings booth needed to be watching that replay and screaming at Chilly to challenge before the Packers kicked the extra point.

Now, if there isn't a 'challenge' system but rather a simple booth review in that situation, the Packers are forced to kick a field goal rather than given the seven points. That's a four point swing. The Packers won by four. It's an entirely different game if that call is correct, but again despite it appearing to be the difference in the game point-wise, the whole game would have been different from that point on. It just would have been nice if the ref got the call right on the field, or if the NFL had a system in place that didn't force the head coach to risk a valuable timeout because refs make mistakes.

The other example came in the fourth quarter. The Packers were in a third and eight situation I believe, or something similar, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings on a comeback route. Jennings appeared to catch the ball about a yard past the first down, and it looked as if the Vikings defender touched him in that spot. Jennings wasn't down yet, and his momentum pushed him back a few yards and the refs spotted the ball inches short of the first down. McCarthy chose not to challenge, likely assuming they'd be able to convert fourth and inches, and also realizing he might need that timeout late in the game for one reason or another. I believe under review Jennings would have been given a better spot, and the Packers would have had a first down deep in Vikings territory. The Vikings stopped John Kuhn on fourth and inches and had an opportunity to win the game in the final minute because of a bad spot by the officials and no challenge.

Everyone loves to criticize the head coach when he fails to challenge a play that was clearly wrong on the field. There's no doubt that both Vikings and Packers fans were screaming obscenities at their televisions last night as they watched two common senseless coaches duke it out. However, these kinds of mistakes happen almost every week, in almost every game. It's time the NFL looked at it's current replay system and realized that getting the calls right should be the most important aspect of the system; it shouldn't be a strategy that a coach needs to have. The NFL will likely never adopt the system they should, because they aren't going to want to show just how many calls officials get wrong during a game.

It's unfortunate, because as great of a game as it was last night, it would have been even better if those two key plays would have either been called correctly on the field or would have been reviewed by the booth.