This year's NFL meetings were for the most part uneventful as the league focused on such urgent matters as making a flexible television schedule for the last four weeks of the regular season, upping their investment in the Arena Football League and pondering the feasibility of having the Super Bowl in a venue with sub-50 degree weather. While catering to Monday Night Football, the league's second most visible public-relations outlet (behind only the Super Bowl) may have value, fretting over an indoor football league that draws less than 1% of America's football fans interest or pondering if cold weather NFL fans are being treated inequitably due to their inhospitable January clime is absurd. This is particularly so when there is an unsettled matter that is threatening the very integrity of the game. Namely, the monumental failure called NFL instant replay.
Considering how poorly the system functioned last season, whether due to the inherent problems in the format or the drastic inconsistent acts of the faceless Star Chamber in the booth, additional time to at least further tweak the procedure is a must. Better yet, let's just trash the whole damn thing and go back to the days when the referees' call stood. Regardless of how bad the call was, we fans learned to live with it, realizing that most breaks even out over the course of a season. Instead, we now have the parade of second-guessing by inept announcers that can't even keep track of how the system is supposed to work (Hey Brent Jones, a coach cannot challenge a call in the last two minutes of each half, you got that yet?! Rusting metal is a better use of oxygen than the senseless utterances that come from the Jones' trap each week.). Not to mention the time-consuming replay review from a Scorsesean array of camera angles, all for a play that was boring the first time we saw it. Considering that we already have to endure long-winded commercials before and after each kickoff, do you really want to spend more time watching "non-action" in a sport that only has 12 to 15 minutes of real activity in the first place?
Paul Tagliabue would have you believe that instant replay prevents season-ruining calls from standing. Narrow views such as this are why the NFL instituted replay again and even seriously considered implementing replay toward the end of one season in knee-jerk response to a particularly bad weekend of officiating. Please explain to me how a play with less than two minutes to go in the 4th quarter is any more important than a bad call that occurred with ten minutes left in the first quarter that resulted in the offense having to punt? What about a bad spot of the ball at the start of the second quarter or a penalty that did not get called to start the second half? Do these events not also contribute to the ruin of a team's season? I hate to trot out the Pandora's Box argument, but I simply cannot see it any other way. Because it is impossible to ensure that every moment in an NFL contest is called correctly, I submit that there should be no Instant Replay at all. None. Selecting plays that only occur in the last two minutes of a half or only allowing a coach a limited number of challenges only serves to frustrate both viewer and participant and cause one to continually question just how bad the NFL referees are at performing their jobs.
Is the idea of allowing a bad call to stand really so unpalatable? Sure, I don't want my team getting jobbed, but to a reasonable degree I can accept it. Any coach worth his salt reminds his team during pre-game that they must do the following to win: 1) commit no turnovers or penalties; 2) wrap up on your tackles; and 3) overcome adversity resulting from a turnover, penalty or a bad call by the refs. A bad call that stands at the end of the game was most certainly preceded by numerous opportunities that a team failed to capitalize on when they had the chance. For a team to point to one bad call as the reason why they lost is shortsighted, ignorant and a copout for not doing what was required of them to win. If
Even if the replay process were perfect, NFL officials have proven that they are incapable of consistently applying the rules. Explain how the Bears (in their improbable comeback against the Browns in 2001), by merely snapping the ball, can avoid having a questionable Dez White catch revisited, even as the replay booth was howling for a review and then these same Browns six weeks later against the Jaguars get a snap off, begin and even conclude a play and the replay booth still proceeds to review Quincy Morgan's catch after a subsequent play has already run? In the latter instance, the call was overturned, which resulted in a turnover on downs for Cleveland, who had just gotten a first down inside the red zone with less than a minute to go in a 15-10 game. No wonder a couple hundred Browns fans went nuts and recklessly chose to rain bottles down on the field. While the Browns should not point to this call as the reason they lost, the NFL had shown yet again their inability to follow their own rules from week to week.
Inconsistent application of when a play is eligible for review is not the only problem. NFL officials have absolutely no comprehension as to what the phrase "irrefutable evidence" means, which is the standard of proof the NFL supposedly requires in order for a play to be overturned by instant replay. "Irrefutable evidence" in the NFL realm is observable proof that shows without a scintilla of doubt that the call on the field was incorrect. In other words, the replay official must be 100% sure that the call on the field was erroneous, otherwise the call should stand as is. If the official is only 99% convinced that the call on the field is incorrect, then the call should stand and not be overturned. While I do not pretend to be able to see inside the hearts of the men in stripes making the replay determinations, I am convinced that NFL officials are often overturning plays that they believe are only more likely than not wrong as opposed to being based on the irrefutable evidence standard.
Until the NFL can put into practice a system that adequately patches up the holes that currently plague the process, Instant Replay should be shelved. I know I would rather devote my attention and energy to the action on the field instead of focusing on the black and white polyester backside of a referee hunched under a replay "hood." Because we live in a society so fixated with fairness, even at the expense of stripping all meaning from the very thing that we are