Pleas from NFL coaches and Goodell get owners to change replay


Coaches push hard for addition of offensive/defensive pass interference to challenge system in aftermath of blown call in NFC title game.

PHOENIX — Sean Payton was armed with an answer to every concern. As NFL owners continued to fret about the length of games and the associated fear of adding another layer of plays to what can be challenged by coaches, Payton came up with a powerful retort.

Stop worrying about the bogeyman and be more concerned with the integrity of the game.

“What I’m hearing is this bogeyman about the time of games,” Payton said Tuesday morning in what amounted to a rehearsal for his plea to other coaches and, eventually, the owners. What Payton was attacking were the concerns about the length of games and how the pace of play could be impacted by adding defensive and offensive pass interference.

By Tuesday afternoon, Payton and the rest of the coaches got their way as the NFL added pass interference to the list of calls to be challenged. For now, it’s a one-year adoption.

For those who don’t understand all the issues at play, the pace of NFL games is nearly as important in the grand scheme as a blown call that might have changed the the outcome of the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. That may sound ludicrous considering the anger that resulted after the Saints loss.

It’s not if you understand the future of the game. While NFL ratings across all media were rejuvenated last season, there is still long-term concern. The NFL and the networks that cover it (ESPN, FOX, CBS and NBC) have all tracked the numbers on audience trends. Those trends show that millennials have largely passed on the game, instead watching the NBA, soccer and a myriad other forms of entertainment. The trend is worrisome.

One of the reasons? The pace of games is often too slow, ponderous to the point of making those young fans turn to their phones for entertainment instead of staying glued to the action. Constant stoppages in play and the cameras focusing on the game officials drives viewers to whatever other distraction they can find.

So for as much as the NFL took its lumps in the aftermath of the blown pass interference call in New Orleans, it has other concerns. In other words, do you fix the gash on your left arm or worry about the precancerous growth on your right arm?

As NFL owners listened to five proposals regarding replay on Monday, they became decreasingly interested in making a change. Every time some mentioned another type of penalty that needed to be reviewable, the more uncomfortable the owners got with the idea of games becoming constant bore-a-thons that turn off viewers and, in turn, the spigots that churn out cash.

Payton and the other coaches recognized that by late Monday and held a spirited two-and-a-half hour meetings amongst themselves to figure out something that would work. The discussion was lively and pointed. Several coaches called it “productive” because of the spirit of urgency to get something done.

More importantly, it gave the coaches time to come up with the most convincing argument about the future. Payton expressed that by discussing two things. First, games won’t get longer. Second, the league better improve the system or face the wrath of fans who are upset.

Payton argued that if coaches are allowed to challenge offensive and defensive pass interference, they are more likely to withhold challenges throughout the game. The result will be fewer challenges, not more. That argument was supported by data from the NFL that showed that of the 50 more impactful penalties that the league got wrong last year, half of them were pass interference.

“If you tell me the most pivotal calls could be challenged, there’s no way I’m going to get caught without a challenge late in a game,” Payton argued.

Then Payton addressed the bigger elephant in the room: What happens to the NFL as gambling continues to grow and becomes a bigger part of the already-huge football gambling nexus.

“Those people who are upset with pace of play, times that by a million for those people who (lost a bet) … I’m not even talking about the avid gambler,” Payton said.

On top of those points, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a plea to owners on Tuesday morning to make some type of change. By late in the afternoon, the coaches had settled on adding only pass interference to the list of calls that could be challenged. As everything came together, Dallas coach Jason Garrett added some important thoughts on the subject and other coaches made it clear to their owners that something, even anything, had to be done.

Next: NFL opens up pass interference calls to replay review

“I do appreciate that we way a game that has a rhythm to it. If we spend time trying to get every play right, there’s a good chance that it’s not a very entertaining game,” Payton said. “(But) I think there are a lot of people paying attention today to this vote. They want to know if this will be allowed to happen to another team.”

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