A pair of problems with one potential fix
Something … something feels different today.
It feels as if the world has been brought into balance. As if Thanos has just snapped half of the universe away.
But the Mad Titan is not the source of this balance. Instead, the New Orleans Saints were properly screwed out of a trip to the Super Bowl. All of the injustice that the organization brought with their 2009 NFC Championship Game victory over the Minnesota Vikings can be put to rest for the fans of the North.
But while the feeling of karma leveling out over the past decade, there is a bigger issue.
The NFL has a huge problem, and it’s pretty black and white.
The quality of that pun is just like the quality of officiating seen last weekend, terrible.
In both conference championship games this weekend, some of the calls were simply mind-blowing.
Let’s start with the call that won the Saints the 10-Year Challenge. With less than two minutes left in a tie game with the Rams, receiver Tommylee Lewis took a shot from Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The issue: Robey-Coleman arrived well before the ball arrived at the receiver. The corner never turned around and never made a play on the ball. If he had, there was plenty of green in front of him and six points for the Rams could have been on the board.
A majority of people rooting for the Saints waited for the flag. The Superdome erupted as it became evident that no call was coming.
The replays showed just how bad the call was. Everyone and their mother could see how bad of a call it was.
New Orleans lined up and converted the field goal to take a three-point lead. Los Angeles drove down the field and converted one for themselves to send the game into overtime.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in perfect parallel to Brett Favre a decade ago, tossed an interception in the extra period. Another Greg Zuerlein field goal sent the Rams to their first Super Bowl since 2001.
The AFC Championship Game wasn’t immune to a poor officiating either. A roughing the passer call when Tom Brady got brushed was the lowlight of the evening.
The calls on the field, however, just underline the major problem growing in the sport. With the game’s ever increasing speed, refs simply can’t see everything.
Going back to the Saints-Rams call, the official said he saw the ball get tipped, which means he thought he made the right call. What made him think the ball was tipped is anyone’s guess, and it was a terrible ruling.
How can the NFL respond? The rumor mill has already started the discussion of whether coaches can challenge the call on the field for a missed pass interference call. Doing so would open a whole other can of worms for the NFL.
Challenges are already a disliked bit of the game. They ruin the flow, but could also be used more than they currently are.
So, let’s take a look at that other football, and the use of the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR). While major soccer leagues are starting to use VAR, it is a contentious point. The bottom line is that in some leagues, the system works better than others.
MLS has seen VAR become a bit of an annoyance. Fans in the stadium rarely know what the officials are looking at, and sometimes even those at home.
Turn around to the VAR system used in Russia for the 2018 World Cup, and it is hard to complain. It was fairly quick, decisive and fixed major decisions.
A dedicated video assistant referee would have easily been able to call down to the field in New Orleans to review the call. The “clear and obvious” moniker can stay in place for the NFL in order for the VAR to change the call.
Keep the normal challenge system and supplement it with a VAR override. This will help the second problem that the NFL will soon be getting.
Officials are getting older, and who in their right mind would want to be a NFL official?
There is already a shortage of officials in the high school game, and it will only be time before the NFL feels a similar pinch. With a VAR safety net to help get the right call, it is possible to get more people interested.
But for now, Vikings fans can revel in the fact that the universe is finally back in balance.