Great NFL playoff games tainted by bad officiating, OT rule flaw

The NFL’s officiating video review system needs to be fixed. And overtime comes down to who wins the coin toss. How is that fair?

I don’t know why some people aren’t sports fans but I’m certainly glad I am. Sunday’s National Football League games reinforced that feeling.

What great drama and entertainment the NFL gave us with the conference championship games. Elite athleticism and clutch performances were on exhibit by players from each of the four teams.

Sadly, the primary topic of conversation at workplaces, at lunch counters and in fitness clubs today isn’t about two extremely exciting and entertaining football games. It’s about an official’s error in the NFC title game and a stupid overtime rule in the AFC title game.

Let’s start with the NFC championship game.

The New Orleans Saints very likely would be making Super Bowl travel plans today if it weren’t for a faulty video review system. With 1:49 to play, the Saints were driving near the Los Angeles Rams goal line when Drew Brees threw a pass towards wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman plowed into Lewis way before the ball arrived.

Basically, everyone in the stadium saw it as pass interference except the officials on the field.

With the penalty, the Saints could’ve killed most of the clock before kicking the go-ahead field goal or scoring a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, they had to kick the go-ahead field goal with a 1:41 remaining, allowing the Rams time to march down the field and tie the game via a field goal, sending the game to overtime. And then the Rams won in overtime.

The NFL’s officiating video review system needs to be fixed. The league should have a referee in a booth upstairs with the power to call blatant missed penalties like the pass interference at the end of the Saints-Rams game. And put a time limit on it. That missed pass interference play would’ve taken no longer than 30 seconds to review and get right.

If you’re going to allow the use of video review during games you must find a way for that pass interference non-call to be reviewed.

Regarding the AFC championship game, featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots, all I can ask is: Have you ever heard of such moronic overtime rules in your life?

What sense does it make to say to the team that loses the coin toss, “Hey, if the other team scores a field goal on its first possession, we’ll give you guys a chance to score. But if the other team scores a touchdown, we won’t give you a chance.”

The current NFL overtime rules make the coin flip to start the overtime a major factor in determining the game’s outcome. And that should never be the case.

It certainly isn’t a fair system. In a game of big plays, the biggest might have been the Pats winning the coin flip to start the overtime period.

But there’s a simple solution: Each team should get a chance to have the ball so a coin flip doesn’t impact the outcome.

I much prefer the Canadian Football League and U.S. college overtime rules to the NFL’s. But I would modify those rules some. I think each team should get the ball at the 50-yard line. That would give each team a fair shot to win the game, but make it a little harder to score than in the college game, where each team starts at the defence’s 25-yard line, or the CFL, where each team starts on the 35-yard line.

The Rams and Patriots played great football on Sunday but one team is in the Super Bowl largely due to a blown call and the other team is in the Super Bowl largely because they won a coin flip.

Both of those things are wrong. And they’re issues that need to be addressed by the NFL as soon as possible.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.


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