The League

Mark Maske
Staff Writer

Mark Maske

Writes the NFL News Feed blog

Don't Overhaul Instant Replay

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The NFL doesn't need more instant replay.

It needs better instant replay.

Instant replay was added to the sport as an officiating tool to overturn the obviously wrong call that determines the outcome of a game. That's what it failed to do Sunday in Denver. Referee Ed Hochuli made an obviously wrong call and while Mike Shanahan can argue otherwise, it did determine the outcome of the game. Yes, the Broncos still had to score a touchdown, convert a two-point conversion and stop the Chargers. But they never would have had the chance if Hochuli had made the proper call on an obvious fumble by Jay Cutler. Replay didn't work in this case because of the way the rules are constructed for that type of play. It wasn't allowed to work.

In this case, the fix is easy: Change the rule so that replay could have corrected Hochuli's gaffe and awarded possession to the Chargers.

The whistle had been blown, yes, when Hochuli ruled an incomplete pass. Maybe some players stopped when they heard the whistle. But for the most part, it appeared the players kept playing. The Chargers got the ball and they should have been allowed to keep it when replay determined that Cutler had fumbled.

That's already the way the rule works for down-by-contact plays. When the league changed that rule in 2007, officials studied game tapes and determined that the players usually kept playing, anyway, when the whistle blew but the ball was loose on the field. So that rule was changed to permit the defense to be awarded possession if it recovered a fumble on a play originally ruled on the field, wrongly, to be the offensive player being down by contact before fumbling.

There will be those who use this game-changing mistake by Hochuli to say the NFL should hire full-time officials. Currently, the officials are part-time employees. But it's questionable whether that would make a difference in the quality of officiating. These guys already put plenty of time and dedication into the job. They're good at what they do. They do make mistakes. Not all of those mistakes need correcting; there should be a human element to officiating just as there is a human element to the rest of the sport. But replay is there to correct the worst of the officiating mistakes. The system simply needs to be tweaked a little bit more to allow it to work properly on all types of calls, including this one.

By Mark Maske  |  September 16, 2008; 9:44 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Get it Half-Right, After the Fact | Next: Overhaul Instant Replay

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Mark, you, Charles and Gene are all on the right track. But will the NFL (No Fun League) actually use common sense and do the right and obvious thing here? I doubt it. They're almost as bad as the federal government when it comes to implemeting common sense solutions.

B/t/w, that's total chicken bleep to "discipline" Ed Hochuli like that. You don't do that to an otherwise top notch official for one unintentional mistake, (which the man realized right away). You save that kind of penalty for continual poor performance.

Posted by: cliff | September 16, 2008 4:57 PM

I agree. Regardless of how embarassing this botched call turned out to be, the instant replay rules need only a minor tweak. In this situation, it was clear that the premature whistle did not affect possession, i.e. the Chargers would have recovered whether Hochuli blew the whistle or not. The rules should simply be adjusted so that the whistle is taken into account but is not the absolute determining factor. In other words, let the refs make a judgement call like they're trained to do.

I think that the earlier replay problem in the game is more serious -- the play where the call couldn't be overturned because the on-field review equipment wasn't working. If the TV viewers and booth officials have video showing the play, there should be some way to evaluate this video even if the on-field review system isn't working. Either give the call to the booth officials or come up with a backup strategy. If the refs had been able to reverse the earlier blown call, the bad call at the end of the game would have been an isolated instance instead of part of a trend.

Ed Hochuli is a scapegoat here. He blew the initial call, but he courageously stuck to the rulebook on instant replay, even though this made him look much worse than if he had reversed his original call. The whole reason we have instant replay is because we understand that refs make mistakes which can be reversed. The problem here is the rules, not the refs...

Posted by: Steve | September 16, 2008 6:47 PM

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