I have conclusive evidence that the NFL replay challenge system should be over-hauled---and the sooner, the better.
When Reuben Droughns fumbled the ball in the last minute of the Browns win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, it was clear that, after the challenged that was called from the press box, the team that got possession of the ball was going to win that game. It took a third camera angle to see that the ball popped out of the pile well after Droughns' knee hit the ground. But even the most ardent Browns fan couldn't be sure, however, that the call was going to go the Browns way because it was there was no conclusive proof that the ball was or wasn't already out of Droughns' possession before we all saw it pop out.
Here's the problem with the system. While it is designed to correct on-field errors by the officials, in most cases, we still have to live with the call that was made because of a lack of conclusive evidence to overturn it, even if it was the wrong call.
I have a simple solution, and please bear with me if you have heard or read how I feel about it. There should be positions created for newly retired officials or other rules experts, which would solve the problem. Right now, on any given Sunday or Monday, there are already 16 of these guys stationed in the press boxes around the NFL. The top four of them should be assigned to the Fox Studio in Los Angeles, ESPN in Bristol, and CBS and (this year) ABC in New York. In fact they could have two of them at each headquarters just to make sure the play is called right.
These guys can be sitting around playing gin rummy, and stuffing themselves with pizza, while not watching any of the games on the monitors. When a challenge is made any time during the game, or the ref on the field feels that there is a questionable situation in the last two minutes, the guys in the studio go to work. They should be told which monitor to look at. The key element is that they should NOT know how the play was called on the field. That way, the conclusive evidence part of the rule is done away with.
In the case of the Droughns play as described above, there would have been absolutely no question about the outcome of the play. While we'd like to think that the officials are only concerned with getting the play right, there are other factors involved. For the most part the officiating crew stays together all year, and their performances are graded as a team, as well as individually. There shouldn't be any reluctance for the head linesman to overturn one of his crewmates, but I am sure that has been a problem at times in the past.
This won't enter into the equation.
There's another reason for this system change. We have all seen receptions that are questionable on the sideline or at the back of the end zone. Sometimes the referee will hesitate, and even look for help, and then just go ahead and make the call one way or the other. If the system is changed as I suggest, then the refs should be taught to make no call at all, leaving it up to the guys in the studios. That way, there would be more ability to go ahead and make a more intelligent call from the various replays, rather than having to have conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field. Again, in most cases, the easy way out is to just say there is no conclusive evidence, when you know they would say the same thing if the call went the other way.
And this simple solution, as illustrated, doesn't even address the amount of time that it takes for the ref to walk over and squint into the replay camera, and then walk back and deliver his pronouncement. The time would be cut in half, and the fans in the stands wouldn't be inconvenienced nearly as much as they are now. The would still boo if the call goes against them, but they might be more understanding if they knew how the call came about.
As if we in Cleveland needed more proof, there is more conclusive evidence that a quarterback should not be taken with the first couple of picks in the draft. Alex Smith has been terrible with the 49ers, Aaron Rodgers has not developed in Green Bay, and Phillip Rivers hasn't been heard from in San Diego.
Unless there is a trade involved, the teams are awarded top picks for a reason---they aren't very good. That means that there are plenty of needs for those teams, who also don't have enough time to devote to the grooming of a top QB prospect, assuming they chose the right.
If a team struggles, it is hard to `recruit' top quality free agents for that reason alone. If the free agents believe that the team will be grooming a new QB, unless they can sign for an outrageous amount of money, they might not feel they have enough time left in their careers to wait.
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