Silverman: Rule Changes, Replay Decisions Have Damaged Pro Football

Incessant Tinkering With Game Has Led To Widespread Confusion From Fans, Coaches, Even Refs

By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

The NFL has many problems, and it would be difficult to see a worse outcome than the Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown catch that was heinously transformed into a turnover against the Patriots on Sunday.

I don’t want to hear about the letter of the law or that officials actually made a proper call. Anyone who was in MetLife Stadium or saw the game on television knows what happened.

Seferian-Jenkins made a spectacular effort that resulted in a great catch, and he crossed the goal line. It was a touchdown, and that’s the only satisfactory outcome.

New England Patriots v New York Jets

Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is seen fumbling the ball after what was originally called a touchdown against the Patriots during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 15, 2017. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Everyone knows it, and as Bill Belichick reviews the film, he knows his Patriots received an unexpected gift.

The scrutiny that officials receive over their replay-review calls is part of the reason that ridiculous rulings are made all the time. Go back into NFL history to the famous 1958 NFL title game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.

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That game is often referred to as the greatest game in the history of the NFL or as the game that propelled pro football past baseball on the North American sports ladder.

There was no replay available for that game, and officials made calls without conferences or having their rulings scrutinized. The officials simply did their jobs without having to be overcome by fear because Big Brother was watching.

Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Johnny Unitas and Alan Ameche made great plays. Officials simply did their job and called holding, offsides or pass interference. The result was an NFL classic.

How can officials do their job when they are constantly under review? This has been my beef with instant replay for years, and I believe that it seems to work better for the other three major sports than it does for football.

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It may work best for basketball when determining possession on an out-of-bounds play or whether a shot beat the clock at the end of the game. It’s an excellent tool in hockey when a puck ricochets out of the back of the net in an instant. It has caught goals that may have been missed in the past. It may not work as well on an offsides play that was not caught by the linesman and then wipes out a goal that was scored 45 seconds later.

It seems to be decent for baseball on barrier calls – home runs or foul balls – and on certain safe or out calls. However, when players are declared out because momentum takes a base stealer off the base for a fraction of a second, something is wrong.

But the bigger problem with football is the constant rule changes and tinkering of the rules. The biggest complaint that most have is that nobody knows what an official NFL catch is supposed to look like.

That includes many NFL coaches who have been victimized by reception-interpretation rules over the years.

Changes in the kickoff rules, extra point rules and blocking rules come at a rate that make most head coaches’ heads spin.

Other offensive and defensive rules changes come as often as the wind blows. Yes, I know there is a competition committee that studies these matters, but it seems they are driven by the latest scoring trends.

If defenses are holding offenses down and there are too many 13-10 games, the rules will be changed to benefit the offense. If the day ever comes when 35-31 games dominate, than you can bet that rules will be changed to help defenses out.

Changing the rules makes the officials unsure of what they are doing. They were already shaky to begin with, and that’s why there are so many inexplicable decisions.

Change can be a good thing, but in the case of the NFL, it has come too frequently, and that’s why there are so many controversies.

Who among us can define a catch according to the NFL’s rules? What about a touchdown? It’s a mess, and needs to be fixed in a logical manner.

Once it gets fixed, don’t make any more rule changes.

Please follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy

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