CFL Pass

NFL: If you're going to pinch from the CFL rulebook, take everything!

American mainstream sports media is at again, touting the CFL’s replay rules as a panacea for the NFL’s in the area of officiating – though omitting a crucial bit of the rule.

Running at the online version of the USA Today today is a story with the incredibly wordy title After Saints-Rams, the NFL has a pass-interference problem. The CFL might have the solution.

Like the Reuters wire story of January entitled Canadian Football League could hold answer to NFL problem, USA Today’s in-house article begins with the infamous no-call in the NFC Championship Game and leapfrogs to: “All the controversy could have been avoided if the NFL had a rule similar to the one in the CFL where since 2014 coaches have been able to challenge pass interference calls.”

The USA Today piece thereafter provides a statistic whose crucial nature goes unnoted: “Last season in the CFL, 42 of 71 challenges were for defensive pass interference, of which 19 (48%) were overturned from the original call on the field.”

Right, so the CFL pass interference challenge rule is great and the NFL should adopt it as soon as possible … except that not long after the rule to allow challenges of pass interference was implemented, head coaches found a way to game the system and referees, from the observer’s standpoint, quit caring so much about getting calls right.

Here’s the way the system of wide-open challenge calls “worked” by the end of 2016: Quarterback throws the long pass to the receiver, who isolated in coverage. Both players go for the ball. If the WR fails to make the catch, the offense’s head coach challenges for pass interference. If the WR makes the catch, the defense’s head coach challenges for – you guessed it – defensive pass interference. By week 4 or so of the 2017 season, referees essentially kept the flags in their pockets, knowing a call is just as likely to be challenged as a no-call.

The result? Games started running 3½ hours and even longer. CFL Twitter was awash with complaints about referees – we mean, likesay, even more awash than usual, if possible – and tv ratings were decreasing.

Said first-year commissioner Randy Ambrosie in August 2017: “Video review, unfortunately, has become [an artificial impediment to CFL fans’ enjoyment of the game]. It was put in place to fix egregious and indisputable mistakes that could affect the outcome of a game. It’s not being used that way now. Too many challenges and reviews are interrupting the game. Coaches, understandably since they are under pressure to win, have been using it to try to gain an advantage.”

Effected immediately – about one-third of the way into the regular season, mind you –was an addendum to the CFL rulebook, which was the real revolutionary change in gridiron football video review: Coaches are allowed to challenge only one play per game, and must have at least one timeout remaining to use this challenge.

That’s right. We’ll run that again: Coaches are allowed to challenge only one play per game.

Now reconsider that “Last season in the CFL, 42 of 71 challenges were for defensive pass interference, of which 19 (48%) were overturned from the original call on the field.”

That’s right: In a CFL regular-season which includes 81 games in total, just 71 challenges were made. That’s less than one per game and means that each team average less than 0.5 challenges per 60+ minutes of football. How much would this improve the NFL viewing experience?

Of course, the downside to the one-challenge system is that the referees must be on top of their game, and real improvement to officiating is still quite the bugaboo – ask New Orleans Saints fans – that the NFL refuses to adequately address.

And if the NFL brain trust decides to allow challenges of pass interference without limiting those challenges…? Come on, how long do you think it’ll take a Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll or Sean Payton to beat the new system?