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Why The 2011 NFL Season Was Terrible- Part I

February 5, 2012

So originally I had one big article that was broken up into six different sections. Then as I was editing it I noticed that it’s really just me complaining for about 20,000 words. No one wants to read that, not in one sitting. So what I’ve done (and to return from my hiatus, again apologies) is broken this up into six different sections.

But the ultimate theme is this NFL season has been a tremendous disappointment. Poor defense play, poor media coverage, and significant regression in particular aspects of the game have really made this an unenjoyable six months. I still love football, I will still watch every week, but in some cases it’s begrudgingly.

I start by focusing on the porous display of officiating that plagued the majority of the games we witnessed. I’m not one to say officiating “cost” a team a game (every Bears loss is because of bad officiating!), but the quality has been steadily declining for years. Who is to blame? It’s multi-facetted. If you would indulge me:

Being an NFL official is harder than it has ever been. Every year there are significant rule changes to the game. On any given play we ask officials to make a split-second judgment call in which they have to decipher whether or not a player was; held, interfered with, grabbed by the face-mask, stepped out of bounds, etc. They have to determine whether or not a receiver was defenseless, whether the tip of the ball hit the ground, whether a player lost possession of the ball before his knee grazed the dirt, or whether or not his left toe was on the white line when he caught the ball. Sure it’s easy for us to determine, we have the luxury of 25 cameras and four or five different angles. We get to see each play in super slow motion multiple times with the benefit (or if you are watching CBS, the determent) of expert commentary.

The officials do not. Players are the most physically gifted they have ever been. They continue to get bigger, faster, stronger, more explosive. Officials are getting older and slower. Referees like Fred Winter have been officiating since Sammy Baugh was quarterbacking athe 1939 Washington Redskins. Can we honestly expect them to make every call correctly? Can we honestly expect them not to misinterpret a rule or anticipate a penalty and throw a flag when there doesn’t need to be one? Can we expect me to run a mile in under four minutes?

As if their job isn’t difficult enough, every season the League decides to add an emphases on a particular area of the game. This year it was player safety. Last year it was offensive holding (and eventually player safety). The year before that it was something else, and something else the year prior, and the year prior, and the year prior. You can only put a certain amount of “emphasis” on one or two aspects of the game, otherwise, you fail to put emphasis on anything. And to compound on what already is a flawed system, the League office often “changes the interpretation of the rule”. A catch isn’t a catch until a player makes a “football move”. What does that mean? Is a “football move” both feet on the ground and a turn, or is it both feet on the ground followed by another step? Oh, what’s that? There is a different set of rules if a player is going to the ground? Or if they are breaking the plane of the end zone? Or if they are in the end zone? Or if they are going to the going to the ground in the end zone? Can someone tell me what one would have to do in order “complete the process of a catch in the end zone”? Calvin Johnson would like to know. If this paragraph was difficult to read it because it was condensed and lacked any real synchronicity…exactly. Now apply what I’ve just said to live NFL action.

(Oh by the way, each rule is reviewed and analyzed at the end of each League year and has the potential to be rewritten to something completely different the following League year)

Which leads me to my next point: NFL replay rules are the worst constructed set of bylaws since prohibition.

Under the current system, a coach begins each game with the ability to challenge as many as two plays per game. If a coach does challenge twice, and is successful twice, he earns a third and final challenge. In the final two minutes of a half and overtime, all potential “reviewable” plays will be looked at by an impartial review official. Judgment calls such as holding, pass interference, forward momentum, and offsides are not reviewable.

I have a question; what if there are four bad calls against a particular team? What if that fourth call happens at 2:01 of the 4th quarter? What if there is :59 seconds left in the game and the replay official is looking at whether or not a player was past the first down marker and misses the indisputable evidence that he stepped out of bounds three yards prior? This isn’t reviewable? No? There’s nothing a coach can do? Well that doesn’t seem fair.

If the point of video replay is to get the call right, why isn’t everything reviewable? Seriously, if the umpire misses a holding call, why not review that? If a cornerback grabs a receiver, interfering with the pass, why is it off limits? Because they’re judgment calls? Every review is a judgment call! Where an official spots the ball is a judgment call! Possession is a judgment call! And why limit the number of challenges? This isn’t a government bailout, there’s no need to put a cap on it.

This is just one of my many frustrations. There are more to come. However, I think it is evident that if a governing body like the NCAA (who I suspect determines their national football champion by racing baby turtles) can agree every play should be under some kind of review, the NFL might want to take notice.

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