Since last Thursday night when the CFL rules committee passed the proposal to make defensive pass interference the first judgment penalty subject to video review by coaches' challenge, there have been many that have opposed the idea and the debate on sports talk radio has been heated.
It should be noted that the rules committee passing the proposal does not necessarily mean it will happen. The final approval has to come from the CFL Board of Governors, who will vote in about a month.
However, it is time to do something about improving the consistency when it comes pass interference in football, and this rule proposal is a strong step in that direction.
Defensive pass interference is the most controversial and game changing penalty in the sport. It is a point-of-foul penalty, meaning the ball is advanced to where the penalty occurred. In other words it is a game changer, and yet ask any football official and, if they are being honest, they will tell you it is the most difficult call to make on the field.
A receiver and a defensive back are battling down the field at high speeds, and usually one, maybe two officials are trying to keep up and make what is the ultimate judgment call, while at times looking through and around other players in their line of vision.
So for every issue raised by those opposed to this new rule proposal, let me make an argument as to why I think implementing this rule will make the game, and everyone involved in it, better.
The following is a list of the concerns that I have heard with this new rule, and my opposing argument.
1. It will take too long and extend the game.
Currently coaches have two challenges per game and if they are correct on both they get a third. That will not change with this new rule. The coaches do not get extra challenges with this rule proposal, and therefore, it will not extend the game. It may be a challenge that takes slightly longer than others. For instance, taking a second look as to whether or not a player has his foot inbounds will take less time than reviewing a DPI call but, we are talking about seconds here. And when you average out all the challenges in a game, again this new rule should not make any difference in the overall time it takes to complete a football game. Let's put it this way, if a DPI review is a longer review by a few seconds, there are lots of ways to save time in other areas. Perhaps an article for another time.
2. It opens a can of worms. What's next, should they review holding, and offsides?
It won't happen! Again back to the severity of the penalty. No other foul in football can advance the ball an unlimited amount of yards. This is also the reason that this rule change does not apply to offensive pass interference. OPI is a 10-yard penalty, not a point-of-foul penalty, so because of that, like any other 5-yard, 10-yard, or 15-yard penalty it will never be subject to video review. The worms can stay in that can.
3. The on-field official gets into the flow of the game. Sometimes the game is more physical and they let things go more, and a ref sitting in an office in the command centre will not understand that flow and see things in a different way.
Herein lies the problem as to why pass interference is such a controversial, and inconsistent penalty call. The premise of this issue for those opposed to this rule change is that, sometimes an officiating crew calls a game differently from one week to the next based on the flow of the game. Sometimes a crew will call a game differently in the first quarter than they do in the fourth quarter. Sometimes the game will be called differently from one crew to another. So how is a guy in Toronto in the command centre going to understand that flow?
Wow, so I ask you, what does a coach say to his defensive backs when it comes to pass interference? In order to find some common ground and consistency, this game-changing penalty can no longer be called based on the "flow of the game," or the quarter, or the crew. A standard has been set, and is currently in the rule book, and if that standard has to be tweaked then so be it. But once there is a consensus on what is and is not pass interference, than we can all move closer to that common ground.
Some defensive backs are concerned about being under the microscope if this rule passes and I understand their concern. I learned all the tricks years ago as well, when it came to impeding the progress of a receiver without being detected by the officials. However, over time those defensive backs will understand that they can't get away with those tricks any longer or at least less often, and will train differently, and ultimately improve.
Over time, there will be a better understanding as to what is pass interference and what isn't and, at that point coaches will coach better, players will play better, commentators will explain the rule better, and fans will better understand it.
4. This will embarrass the officials if too many calls are overturned.
This rule change will actually empower the officials, not embarrass them. First of all the men officiating our game today take great pride in what they do, and should be commended for their work, something that doesn't happen enough. This rule change will not expose them, it will help them become more consistent and bring them together. Again, once that standard is clear as to what is and isn't pass interference, they can have more confidence in throwing the flag when they see an infraction because everyone involved will no longer have to work into their judgment, the flow of the game, the quarter, or the crew they are working with that night.
Also, due to the severity of the penalty, and its impact on the game, when a mistake is made on a PI call, the level of scrutiny goes through the roof. This new system will alleviate some of that scrutiny, and assist the officials that have to make this tough decision on the fly and, therefore, like the DB's, coaches and commentators that I mentioned in the last point, it will ultimately make them better.
For the record, I predict that if this rule change goes through, there will be very few DPI calls overturned. This rule will be more commonly used for times when the ref's vision was blocked and he couldn't see what was an obvious infraction. It will be the missed calls that this rule will most impact.
5. The game is played by human beings that aren't perfect, so why are we trying to make the officials perfect?
That fact will never change. Human error is, and will forever be, part of the game. Players, coaches, refs, GM's, Commissioners, and commentators will make mistakes, and for the players coaches and GM's it will cost them ball games. To me this rule doesn't look to try and make the officials perfect, it looks to assist them in correctly making what is the toughest call on the field, and to give clarity to the coaches and players as to what is an infraction and what is not.
6. You are taking this judgment call from one person's opinion and handing it to another person for his opinion. Why not just leave this call in the hands of one person?
Yes, this will remain a call that is based on the judgment of an official, and adding a second opinion (the command centre) is technically bringing in the judgment of another ref. However, as stated earlier - by the officials' own admission - that PI is the hardest call on the field to make, and the most impactful. So if in fact it is a difficult call to execute, why not assist the on-field ref in making it correctly? Also, as mentioned earlier my suspicion is that this rule change will impact missed calls more than overturning DPI calls. So adding the command centre is actually a chance to get more angles on the play than the on-field official had. In effect, this assists the on-field official, and doesn't simply throw in another opinion on the play.
7. Rather than change the game like this why don't we just make our officials better?
The CFL head of officiating every year keeps track of every call made on the field, and also makes record of calls that were missed. I think most fans would be surprised at the percentage of correct calls that are made during the course of a football season.
The officials are working hard at improving and don't get enough credit for their dedication to one of the most thankless jobs on the planet. To say, "well let's just get better refs, or let's just make our refs better is quite frankly disrespectful to a group of men who work hard at it, and are doing their very best. This reviewable DPI proposal is actually a practical way to help them improve. The technology in sports improves all the time, and this proposal is a way to use that technology to help refs and make the game better.
I'm sure there our other issues that those that are opposed to this rule change have, and I would welcome your input. I have yet to hear a real down side to this proposal, but maybe there is one out there that I have missed.
Again, I think it is fair to say that all football fans would like to see more consistency when it comes to pass interference. No one is placing blame by this rule change proposal; it is simply an effort to improve the game. The goal is to assist the on-field refs in making the toughest call in the game correctly and more consistently to help the coaches be more clear and concise on how they instruct their players. It's to help players better understand what they can and can't get away with in a game, so that they can train accordingly. It's to help commentators better explain what has happened on the field and why, so they can relay that information to the fan watching at home.
Back in the late 90's there was a large majority that hated the thought of video review in football games, and now we can't imagine the game without it. This is a bold move, but it is time to take that step to improve the application of this penalty.
A coach once told me that if you are not improving you are regressing. It is time to find a way to improve on this rule, and find more consistency.
Let's give this proposal a shot.