NFL owners chose cost over game integrity

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick threw a red challenge flag at the NFL this week after they said expanding replay for officials was too costly for the league.
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

By Brady Poppinga

The NFL owners meetings were certainly anti-climactic. Entering the week it was believed that the use of replay would be expanded in some way, but what way was up in the air with multiple proposals on the docket. New and improved replay procedures could've possibly included the review of personal fouls, illegal hits and penalties to name a few. Or it could've included the suggestions of Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots: fixed cameras added to areas like the goal line, thus granting officials guaranteed assistance on the most important judgment calls.  
As it is now, these replay angles are at the mercy of the moving broadcast cameras – sometimes they get the best angle to make a definitive decision, sometimes they don't. For a league that has a fixed scoring area and has committed to replay as its 'get it right' mechanism – specifically with the expansion of a central command replay center a year ago – fixed cameras simply just make sense.  

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell repeatedly cites “game integrity” as a leading motivation, but then the owners cite cost for not acting on a proposal that clearly improves game integrity, somebody is clearly not telling the truth. Public comments that don't square with reality obviously aren't a new thing for the league offices.    

A team executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told USA TODAY Sports earlier this week that teams were told that the cost to install the cameras could approach $20 million; a significant cost, no doubt. But relative to a business that takes in over $11 billion in annual revenues? Maybe not so significant.

After all of the buildup, the only new change to replay is the following:

1. Game clock review: Amendment to rule 15, section 2, article 4. Game officials will have the ability to review any situation where the game clock appears to have expired in error then remedy the situation by adding time if necessary.

Seriously? The game clock is the big, shiny improvement?  

Now I get it that there still is time to change how replay is utilized, but come on! With the technology at our disposal, we should implement replay immediately, as long as it doesn’t affect the ebb and flow of the game. And the reason is that every fan, player and coach wants the correct call. At this point, the correct call is clearly not the league's main motivation.   

As a player, if they league want to get it right, it's frustrating to see them only do so selectively. I had an experience as a player where a video replay would have helped me and our team.  

In 2008 when I was with the Green Bay Packers, we were facing a very good Tennessee Titans team that ended up winning their division. The play in question was a critical third-and-long at midfield. The Titans had trouble moving against our defense all day, and on this third-and-long my job was to bull rush the tackle. I was able to push the tackle into the quarterback, causing an incomplete pass. The tackle immediately punched me in the facemask.

At that point my fight and flight instincts kicked in, I reciprocated and punched the lineman with a right uppercut into his double chin. The official, however, only spotted me throwing a punch and dealt us a 15-yard penalty. That placed Tennessee into field-goal range to where they scored three points and ended up beating us by – you guessed it – three points in overtime. 

To say the least, I wasn’t very popular after the game. However, if there would have been a remote official that could have reviewed what actually happened he would have seen I was only defending myself. That is exactly what happens in most personal foul cases. Officials are occupied looking at other parts of the game, but as soon as they hear some scuffling going on they turn their attention and usually only capture the aftermath. Those that are really at fault come off clean and those who practice self defense are the ones usually penalized.  This is a known and common occurrence on a football field. They have the ability to get it right now and they refuse to.  

Game integrity?  No, not at all. 

In my case, the penalties probably would have been off-setting, but the outcome of the game wouldn't have been determined by the officials half-perspective. Replay in a personal foul situation, as was one of the proposals that got swept under the rug this week, would've allowed them to get it right.  

I’m not saying we should review every play and everything that happens. That would be extreme and would delay the rhythm of the game. However, why not empower the teams to utilize the resources at our fingertips in most critical areas of the field and in the most critical times? 

I believe Belichick had the right to rant and chew out the owners for not investing a small portion of the multibillion dollar business by adding extra cameras and opportunities to use them to enhance officials’ ability to officiate correctly. Hopefully, replay will be utilized in a more expansive way to enhance the game someday. 

But at the owners’ current pace, it may be years before it’s really utilized to its fullest. And “game integrity” continues to suffer for it, no matter what the commissioner would have you believe.


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