The NFL ‘Challenge’ Process Is Broken, But There’s 1 Extremely Simple Way To Fix It

The last thing any sports fan wants in 2018 is to slow…things…down. Baseball is hell bent on finding ways to speed up the game. Football is looking for ways to eliminate the forever commercial breaks. That said, what’s right is right.

The whole point of instant replay is to get the correct call, so let’s focus on that word for a moment…”correct.”

Allow me to see if we can put this in every day terms. Let’s say you’re excessively late for work one day. The boss man warns you not to do it again. Two days later, you show up an hour after you needed to be there, and the boss is fuming. She calls you into the office, explains her position, and says, “give me one good reason not to fire you!”

You then pull out a red hanky and toss it on her desk.

It turns out you left your house for work right on time, and you were cruising. Along the way, a car wreck happens right in front of you. You’re able to avoid the crash, but there are injuries. You pull over, make sure everyone is ok, and help facilitate getting authorities on the scene. Once they are, you take a deep breath and continue to work, an hour late, of course.

Now, the way the NFL does it, they would rescind the threat to fire you, but they would make you burn a vacation day as a penalty. Huh???

If a team challenges a play, and the team ends up being right, that should be the end of it. They were right, fix the call, and move on. Instead, the league still swipes a “challenge” from the team, robbing them of the ability to blow a whistle of their own if a future whistle by the refs is wayward. That doesn’t make much sense.

Case(s) in point: the Dallas Cowboys hosted the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football last week. In the first half, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton used both of his challenges. On the second challenge, Payton was right, as a catch in the red zone, which had been ruled incomplete, was overturned to a catch and a fumble, recovered by the Saints, setting up a score. Nice challenge Coach.

There was a problem, though. Now out of challenges, all the Saints could do was sit and watch as the officials messed up call after call in the decisive 2nd half.

For example, Amari Cooper caught a big first down pass. Replay showed the ball clearly lying on the ground, free from his arms as he hit the ground. Tough cookies Payton. No challenges.

Later in the game, Cole Beasley got a huge first down conversion. Replay clearly showed he was down at least a yard shy of the line to gain on 3rd down. Tough bananas Payton. No challenges.

Here we are in 2018, with all the technology we could ever imagine at our fingertips, and 1988 broke out on our television sets, all because Sean Payton was correct in the first half. Add all this up and you’ll notice the flaw. The teams are penalized for the officials’ mistakes.

The more mistakes the zebras make, the more likely it is that a team ends up getting jobbed in the 2nd half of a big game, through no fault of their own.

We can’t call for unlimited challenges, the coaches would check every play and the games would go past midnight. I know, on the East Coast they already do in some cases. Side note: how do you do it East Coast? Come west for ONE Sunday and you’ll never do it the old way again. I digress.

It’s a simple request really. If a coach is correct with a challenge, that coach gets to keep that challenge. What’s the real risk here? Worst case scenario, game length average goes up about one minute because of additional challenges being used. I’d make that trade.

Last year, there were close to 40,000 plays run during the NFL season. The total number of replays… 429. Red cloth is hitting the turf on roughly 1 percent of the plays. If the league changed the rule so that challenges are not stripped from teams when they get a call correct, how many more replays would we get? 20? 50? Would the next gen stat skyrocket up to 1.2%? Big deal.

I’ll share a story. A few years ago I was sitting at a sports bar with all my closest friends during our fantasy draft. We had no clock on the picks, and some of the guys were taking their sweet time. The chirping started to escalate as players grew frustrated. The commissioner of our league finally stands up and says, “You all have somewhere you need to be?”

Mic drop. We’re sitting in front of a plate of wings, pint glasses full, catching up with our best friends, talking football. Why was everyone in such a hurry? Sit back, relax, and enjoy. This was the good stuff.

The same is true for football games. Have you noticed baseball is hell bent on speeding up the game and football isn’t, even though the games take about the same amount of time? It’s not about racing to the end of the game, it’s about the entertainment value provided during the game. A few more minutes of our time while watching the game we love is just fine. You know what isn’t entertaining? Watching huge games get ruined by bad calls, which are fixable, but don’t get fixed.

Image Source: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

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