Sunday, October 22, 2006

Football Officiating Questions

Two points came up in yesterday's and today's games that I think should be brought up for further discussion.

1) The end of the Georgia-Mississippi State game. The timing of the review raised an issue that bothers me. On the final play of the game, MSU QB fumbled as a result of a rush by Charles Johnson. The referees stopped the clock for the purpose of reviewing the play to determine if it was a fumble or an incomplete pass. During the time of the review, Mississippi State, with hopes that the ruling on the field that the ball was fumbled would be reversed, rushed their field goal kicking unit out onto the field. Now, because of the posture of the review (incompletion vs. fumble), my question didn't apply, because had the ruling been reversed the clock would've been stopped as a result of the incompletion. But, hypothetically speaking, say the fumble had been a result of a massive hit by the defensive end, and as the QB was hitting the ground, the ball came loose. The defense had recovers the ball, but the referees stop the clock to review whether the QB was down before the ball came out. Three seconds on the clock, no timeouts for the offense. The review allows the offense to line up for the game-tying field goal upon a reverse of the ruling that there was a fumble. If not for the review (as in, say the ruling on the field had been that the QB was down) stopping the clock, the offense would never have been able to get the kicking team out on the field before time ran out. The NFL has rules in place to prevent offensive teams from having the clock stopped by means of a penalty, a provision that imposes a 10 second runoff. But as far as I can tell, college football does not have such a provision, especially in terms of replay review. So here's the question: is it fair and equitable to give a team a chance to tie, or, in a worse scenario, win, solely because of a replay review stopping the clock? Is making sure every play was exactly correctly ruled on the field worth altering the result solely because of the procedure of reviewing plays? Should there be a mandatory 10 second clock runoff after each reviewed play where the result of the review is a continuing clock? Has anyone raised these issues on the competitions committees or are they waiting for a high profile game to be decided due to this? Or worse, might referees not go to a replay in the final seconds, risking getting a play completely wrong, simply to avoid giving a team a timing advantage? I find this interesting.

2) End of the first half in the Falcons-Steelers game. Steelers go ahead 24-21, and kickoff to Allen Rossum, kicking from the 15 yard line as a result of a celebration penalty on Hines Ward. Rossum breaks loose and has open field ahead of him. The Steelers' kicker is the only man between Rossum and a sure touchdown. Jeff Reed goes to the ground, and purposefully trips Rossum, in violation of the rules of the game. It is as clear a trip as I have ever seen in football. Announcer Phil Simms praises Reed for the penalty, since it saved a sure touchdown. The penalty carries with it 10 yards on the end of the run. Rossum was tackled at the Pittsburgh 38 yard line, tacking on 10 yards left the Falcons at the 28. Had Reed not tripped Rossum, the result would have been 6 points for the Falcons, doubtlessly. Is a 10 yard penalty far too light for a "last man standing" flag? Compare this to soccer's penalty for pulling a player down when it is just that one defender between the attacker and the goal - a red card removing the offender from the game and imposing another game's suspension and offering the attacking player a penalty kick (an opportunity that leads to a goal 75-80% of the time). Hockey provides a similar penalty to the offending team. But, in football, for the last player in front of the goal line, taking an illegal action to prevent an attacking player from scoring, the penalty is a mere 10 yards. My opinion: this is a more egregious incentive for players to cheat than the 15 yard pass interference in college football. And in this instance, it worked. On the first play from scrimmage, Michael Vick threw an intereception to James Farrior. How should this rule be changed? Simply stated, the penalty does not fit the indiscretion. I propose for situations like this the NFL use a similar penalty as they use for pass interference in the end zone. First down, ball on the 1. The NFL would respond that there is already a provision for a "last man back" penalty - the palpably unfair provision. On a palpably unfair play, the referee may spot the ball wherever he deems fair or even award a touchdown. Unfortunately, the rule book provides an example for a palpably unfair play: a player comes off the bench and tackles a man destined to score. A play such as that is so far beyond the rules of play that, yes, it is indeed palpably unfair. A trip is dealt with elsewhere in the rulebook. Why would a referee go further to say that a penalty is palpably unfair when there's a more specific provision dealing with it? It isn't outside the bounds of the rules as much as a dude coming off the bench. But is the result any different? Each was in violation of the rules, and each prevented a score. I think the NFL could do a better job of punishing violators who are the last man back that break the rules to prevent a score. This instance is a sure situation where I think the punishment did not fit the crime.