The League

Gene Wang
Fantasy Guru

Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Overhaul Instant Replay


After referee Ed Hochuli missed a call that all but cost San Diego a win against Denver on Sunday, the NFL needs to re-examine how it handles and implements instant replay.

The rule prohibiting officials from changing a call after the whistle has blown makes no sense. Officials need to be able to review a disputed play on the replay monitor and fix the call, whistle or not. After all, isn't that why owners voted for instant replay in the first place, to make sure the call are correct, especially at the most critical times?

It all comes down to the eyeball test. Through benefit of television replays, everyone watching Sunday's Chargers-Broncos game knew Denver quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled on the controversial play. The evidence was indisputable, and thus officials should be allowed to overturn what they missed even after a the whistle.

Hochuli said he initially thought Cutler threw an incomplete pass, blew his whistle and made the call accordingly. Then after reviewing the play, Hochuli promptly admitted his call was incorrect but that by rule he was not allowed to overturn it.

Huh? What's the point of instant replay if officials are not allowed to get it right?

Now comes news Hochuli is going to be downgraded by the league on its officials evaluation list, meaning we probably won't be seeing him this season work the Super Bowl or the playoffs.

Yet Hochuli's interpretation of the instant replay rule was completely correct. He followed league mandated rules to the letter, and he remains one of the most respected officials in the NFL despite the blown call.

Yes, Hochuli missed the seminal call of the game and ought to be disciplined in light of that. But unlike just about every other official in the four major professional sports leagues, Hochuli held himself accountable. That's refreshing in an age when officials so often run for cover rather than admit error.

If the NFL does not change its instant replay rules, then they might as well do away with it completely. To have a system that works only some of the time rather than all of it, well, that's the real blown call to come out of this latest referee controversy.

By Gene Wang  |  September 16, 2008; 11:01 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You da man. Accountability, yes it does exist sometimes. And I care more about the honest ref and his owning up to the mistake than if the Chargers are 0-2.

Posted by: Pat Flat | September 16, 2008 4:20 PM

Your solution sounds great, but there's an important flaw:

Say Hochuli reversed himself after the play and awarded the ball to San Diego. What about the Denver offensive linemen who didn't dive on the ball because they heard the whistle? They could've recovered, but didn't have the chance because the play was blown dead.

You can't play "what if" with replay to figure out who would've recovered if there were no whistle. Once it's blown, that's it.

If you figure out a way around that, then you've got a solution. Until then, plays like this are an unavoidable (and regrettable) mistake.

Posted by: John | September 16, 2008 4:51 PM

John - check out this video - the fumble is at :16 or so...

As you can see Cutler is still trying to get the ball after he fumbles it, but Dobbins beats him to it. AND there is no other Denver player in sight who "pulled up" due to the whistle. I see you point, but it simply doesn't apply here - which is why we need the rule adjusted so that Ed could have reversed himself

Posted by: BlueBear | September 16, 2008 6:30 PM

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