In watching NFL Sundays since I was, oh, 7 or 8 years old, I can safely say it has brought more joy to my life than anything other than my current wife, my current dog and my current remission from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
But if my IBS flares up again, I will hold the NFL largely responsible due to the application of two changes this season – the use of replay as an officiating tool on every scoring play and moving kickoffs five yards closer to the goal line.
Replay remains the most slippery of slopes in all of sport. Once you embark on that path, there’s no firm footing and no going back.
I lost the replay battle years ago. There are a dozen reasons it shouldn’t be used, but arguing against it is like trying to stop the tide from coming in. Sports Nation has spoken – “if everyone can see it’s a bad call, it must be changed” – and I no longer will throw my frail body in front of that rudderless ship of fools.
In football, replay is tricky. It’s not as simple as in tennis, where you’re just checking to see if the ball is in or out and it takes only a matter of moments.
(By the way, tennis would be a greater game if the pros made all the line calls themselves, like recreational players do. The honor system might’ve made John McEnroe a better person.)
In a more perfect world – say, April in Paris – you would want to redress obvious mistakes, without stopping the game too often too unnecessarily. But the “challenge” system led to an uproar if an egregious officiating error occurred after a coach had run out of replay challenges. Which leads to now, where all scoring plays are reviewed, due to their outsized importance to the future of mankind.
But if you automatically review a touchdown in which the runner appeared to cross the goal line by one inch, why wouldn’t you automatically review a play in which the runner appeared to be short of the goal line by one inch? What’s the difference? Where does the officiating carousel end?
Another replay conundrum – when a replay ref is attempting to determine, say, a possession issue, if he sees a block in the back, it does not matter; it’s as if it did not happen. Nothing else in the play is reviewable.
Let’s look at a hypothetical situation (but one that is entirely plausible):
On a touchdown, the runner appears to fumble before he reaches the end zone. While reviewing the play on video, the referee notices that an offensive lineman pulled a chainsaw out of his jersey and cut off the head of one of the linebackers; the head, in fact, is rolling around near the 5-yard line. At the very least – I don’t have the rulebook in front of me – I assume this is a personal foul, either unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct or, I guess, illegal hands to the face. But the ref cannot rule on this.
Does it seems fair that an act that likely would bring felony charges – I don’t know the law, but we could be talking at least manslaughter – cannot even be penalized 15 yards during the game?
As preposterous as that sounds, it’s not nearly as preposterous as the NFL decision to shift kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line, which might be THE DUMBEST IDEA IN THE HISTORY OF ORGANIZED SPORTS.
Years ago, the NFL moved kickoffs five yards back to the 30 to create fewer touchbacks. Kickers’ legs had gotten stronger, and the league didn’t want to eliminate the excitement of the kickoff return. Now, the league has moved kickoffs to the 35 to create more touchbacks in the name of player safety on kickoff returns.
Alas, the most important element to the kickoff, I believe, is the kickoff return. They kick the ball off and you run the ball back; there’s no point in kicking the ball off if you’re not going to run the ball back. That’s like mailing a letter to no one.
As for player safety, isn’t the whole point of football to hit the other guy really, really hard? If you don’t want people hitting each other, they should just play backgammon then.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Nine former Ohio State players signed a letter of intent to the NCAA asking it to reconsider recent sanctions – doesn’t that raise the question of who read the letter to them before they signed it? (Eddie Vidmar; Cleveland)
A. Any reputable tattoo-parlor proprietor could’ve read it to them.
Q. If the SEC existed 150 years ago, would there have been a Civil War? Or would people have been too busy attending the Georgia-Florida football game? (Tom Ponton; Columbia, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
Q. If the Colts are 0-14 in December and losing at halftime of their 15th game, will Jim Caldwell insert Peyton Manning to break up the perfect season? (Stephen J. Ruberg; Indianapolis)
A. Pay this wise soul, too.
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