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The NFL's No Review Rule on Improper Challenges Doesn't Fit the Crime, Needs to Be Reviewed

I’m throwing the challenge flag on the NFL rulebook and want a review. By asking for it, though, I probably just insured it would never happen.

Here’s what happened yesterday, in case you missed it. Justin Forsett ran the ball up the middle, hit down with his elbow and knee, and then got up and ran for an 81 yard touchdown when he was never called down. It came at a pretty big moment, as the Texans were down by 10 in the second half, and would use that score to get to overtime and win.

Because it was a scoring play, it was going to be automatically reviewed. That is, until Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag because he wanted it to be reviewed. Because he made the mistake of wanting it reviewed, it was not. Makes sense, right?

Here’s the NFL Rulebook at Rule 15, Section 9 on coaches challenges.

Penalty For initiating a challenge when a team is prohibited from doing so: Loss of 15 yards.

Replay Official’s Request for Review. After all scoring plays . . . any Replay Review will be initiated by a Replay Official from a Replay Booth comparable to the location of the coaches’ booth or Press Box. There is no limit to the number of Referee Reviews that may be initiated by the Replay Official. He must initiate a review before the next legal snap or kick and cannot initiate a review of any ruling against a team that commits a foul that delays the next snap. [emphasis ours]

We can probably agree on a couple of things. In the heat of the moment, Jim Schwartz got caught up and threw that challenge flag when he shouldn’t have. It was dumb. Also, we don’t want clear errors being allowed to stand, at least most of us don’t.

This is a case of having the rule fit the rationale, or if you prefer, the punishment fit the crime. If you don’t want to have coaches delaying the game by throwing challenge flags, you have to do something to incentivize them not to do so.

They’ve done that. You get a 15 yard penalty. That’s a pretty severe penalty in the NFL world, and we know this because it matches the penalty imposed for the most egregious or serious acts on the field: face mask, unnecessary roughness, illegal chop blocks, and the like.

The only penalty more severe than that part already imposed on coaches is pass interference. We can have debates on that “spot of the foul” penalty, but at least you can argue that if it had not have occurred in many cases, the opposing team would have had the ball in as good or better of a situation (it eliminates YAC). Other penalties–holds, blocks in the back–can negate big plays, but at least there, you can argue that the play would not have happened but for the penalty.

The most severe penalty, though, in the entire rulebook is reserved for a coach who drops the red challenge flag after a play that used to be challengeable but is now subject to replay official review, like a turnover or score. Fifteen yards, and no review on the play in question. As we saw yesterday, that can have a monumental impact. Is that really the most egregious thing that can occur on a football field?

Rules or laws should be proportionate with your goals, and make logical sense. You don’t reserve the most severe punishment for failing to timely get your tags on a vehicle. They should also promote justice, and in the NFL world, this means getting it right. This is the whole point of replay.

Choosing to get it wrong, like yesterday, because of some laundry seems way out of line. The fifteen yard penalty is enough. Review the review rule, NFL. Don’t let coaches get in the way of getting right. You want to punish them in other ways (fines for repeat offenders) then so be it.

Most important, though, get it right.

[videos vía @cfbsection]

 

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