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NFL’s proposed fix for pass interference problem is awful

The league is preparing to bungle and further convolute yet another new rule.

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now been over a week since the New Orleans Saints were victimized by an obvious missed pass interference penalty. But since we haven’t had more football to distract us from that play, the NFL and its fans are still wringing their hands about this, desperately calling for a change, because Something. Must. Be. Done.

The easiest solution to this problem would be to make all penalties—even the judgement calls like pass interference—subject to review. It’s a proposition that I’m pretty staunchly against, but I at least understand the idea and why people support it. Pass interference has been reviewable in the CFL since 2014 and hasn’t caused much of a stir. I still think it will create a bunch of unintended consequences, but I can acknowledge that it would help prevent screwjobs like the NFC Championship game, however rare they may be.

But in the NFL’s infinite wisdom, they couldn’t come up with a solution as simple as just trying it out. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league is considering adding more complications to the rule, because apparently the only way this league can adopt a new rule is if it adds at least three addendums to it.

“The NFL is expected to consider a plan that would allow limited coaches’ challenges for incorrect judgment calls that also could include a penalty or time run off if the coach is wrong,” Schefter reported.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here in such a short statement.

First, let’s tackle the worst part of this proposition: penalizing a failed challenge. The idea here is to obviously provide less incentive for coaches to challenge plays like this, that way they only challenge the drastic mistakes and don’t slow down the game.

But coaches already have an incentive to keep the flag in their pocket: they only have a limited amount of challenges to begin with. The problem with making pass interference reviewable wasn’t that it would slow the game down—the league already has imposed limits on how much review can slow the game. Challenges are valuable, and the last thing a head coach wants is to be out of challenges at a crucial moment of the game. That’s plenty of incentive for coaches not to be flag-happy.

The only thing adding a penalty into the mix will do is infuriate coaches and fans when the call doesn’t go their way. The NFL dabbled with penalizing excessive challenges before, and it didn’t work out well. Just ask Jim Schwartz.

Then there’s the proposal of a time run-off. I will fully admit I am triggered by the thought of a 10-second runoff (don’t click that). Again, we’re furthering the penalty of challenging a call when a system to discourage coaches from challenging close calls is already in place.

If the NFL decides to adopt this proposal, they’re falling into the trap of trying to please both camps. They don’t want to take a full measure of making pass interference reviewable because too many people are concerned about the unintended consequences. They also don’t want to do nothing for fear of looking complacent and unconcerned with the current backlash.

But in my experience, when you try to please both sides like this, you usually end pissing off both parties. This has all the makings of a half measure that both won’t fix the problem and won’t address the real concerns with making pass interference reviewable. Hopefully, the league can come up with something better before the league meetings this spring.

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