The Electric Commentary

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Instant" Replay In The Last Two Minutes

With only 16 seconds to play, and trailing by 3 points, the Chiefs had their work cut out for them. To this point it had been a great game to watch. The Chiefs had just surrendered the lead to the Dallas Cowboys on a play in which no one covered TE Dan Campbell and for Dick Vermeil and company, things looked very grim. Despite an impressive performance by Larry Johnson and the rest of the offense the Cowboys had somehow managed to hang around until the final minutes with flea-flickers and end-arounds. Cowboy RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber had also run the ball well against a team that had basically shut down the run for several weeks.

But the game wasn't over yet. The Chiefs still owned a timeout and they only needed to get into range for kicker LT (Lawrence Tynes) to get them into overtime. On the first play of the drive Trent Green hit WR Samie Parker for 14 yards at the sideline, where Parker rolled out of bounds, stopping the clock. The Chiefs were now within striking distance of field goal range, and they hurried into the huddle to set the next play. They still held a timeout and so they could throw over the deep middle. They got up to the line, ready to snap the ball, when all of a sudden...

Refs whistles blow everywhere, everything comes to a screeching halt, and everyone watching at home on the edge of their seats rolls their collective eyes and heads for the bathroom. You see, Samie Parker was a little too close to the sidelines on that last reception and since it is the last two minutes of the game the replay booth official would like to have another look. The review, which is supposed to take a maximum of 1:30, actually took about 4:30, as the ref has to walk over to the little TV, lift up the cover, stick his head in that weird little hole, and start the show. After that he has to discuss what he saw on the little TV with the other officials (I'm convinced that they just show pornographic movies, but that is for a different post) as slowly as possible, reset the clock, announce his findings to the crowd, and reset the ball. If that description bored you, just remember that it is about 50 times as boring to watch as it is to read.

The replay system in the last two minutes of the half/game is flawed, and needs to be fixed.

While I have some problems with the "coach's challenge" system, it does do a few things right. By limiting the number of challenges per game the NFL insures that only important plays will be reviewed by coaches, as they must maximize the return on their challenges. If a receiver catches a 3-yard out pattern and is incorrectly ruled to have gotten his feet in bounds, a coach may not choose to challenge the play because only three yards are at stake. However, in the last two minutes the booth will generally review every play regardless of importance. (There is one exception that I noted last week, which is that the booth will not review an official's "spot" regardless of the significance to the game.)

The stated reasons for the "booth official review" are as follows:

1. To limit a coach's ability to manipulate challenges late in games. (For example, challenging small things just to slow down an opponent's momentum.) And,

2. There is a belief that plays at the end of a game are more important than plays at any other time, and so there is a special interest in eliminating referee mistakes at the end of a game.

The first reason is a non-issue because in order to challenge a play the challenging team must have a timeout in reserve. If stopping play at that time would be beneficial, using a timeout would be as effective as a challenge. If a coach challenges a play and the challenge is upheld, no matter how minor the matter involved, then it was a good challenge. And if a coach has wasted his timeouts or challenges earlier in the game, then he has no one to blame but himself if a controversial call goes against his team late in the game.

Moreover, as the booth official tends to challenge every minor controversial call anyway, it is more likely that the "coach's challenge" system would reduce momentum-stopping challenges, not increase it.

As for the second stated reason, it is simply untrue. A touchdown on the opening drive is worth as much as a touchdown in the final drive. Late plays seem to take on more significance because we have more information available at that point. Teams know exactly how many points they need and how much time they have to score them in. However, if a bad call cost a team seven points late in a game when that team was down by six, that is no different than a bad call costing a team 7 points early in a game when a team loses by six (except we don't know how the score would have changed the game from that point on).

Botched calls at the ends of games may appear worse to the general public, but they are no worse than any other bad calls.

Finally, coaches routinely "challenge" plays at the ends of games anyway when they take timeouts just to give the replay official more time to review the play. This adds another five minutes to the already lengthy challenge process. It is also more punitive than the normal "coach's challenge" because even if the call is overturned, the "challenging" coach has been forced to forfeit a timeout, which, at this point in the game, he could probably use.

Samie Parker (Remember him?) was ultimately ruled to have been in bounds, and the Chiefs did manage to get into field goal range when Dante Hall got free in the middle of the field and Trent Green hit him in stride. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, LT (Lawrence Tynes) pushed his 41 yard FG attempt wide right, and the Cowboys held on to win. It was a good game, but the most dramatic part of the game was ruined by the booth official, and this seems to be happening in nearly every close game.


  • Paul,

    I do have to take issue with the following comment:

    "By limiting the number of challenges per game the NFL insures that only important plays will be reviewed by coaches"

    You need an * in there for the Mike Martz exception, in which case any and every play is eligible for review at any time even if there is extremely little benefit for the team.

    Example: Mike Martz will challenge a call in the 1st quarter that resulted in a 1st down if he feels that the spot was wrong by two yards.

    By Anonymous Rod, at 12:38 PM  

  • Mike Martz: Perpetual wrench in any plan based on the "reasonable man" theory.

    At least he was limited to 2 per game though.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:53 PM  

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