Each week throughout the NFL season, Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice president of officiating, will answer readers’ questions about officiating and league rules.
To put your questions up for Pereira’s review, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and location in the submission.
Q: Early in the San Francisco-Arizona game, Cardinals running back Andre Ellington had a catch ruled a touchdown on the field but reversed on review. You told the TV audience you thought it was a TD. The receiver had both feet in the end zone, and it looked like he had his hand underneath the ball and in control when he hit the ground outside the end zone. I don’t understand how that call can be reversed without clear and convincing evidence that he did not have control. How does this happen?
– Mort Saltzman, Davis
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A: We were all totally perplexed by this decision to reverse this to an incomplete pass.
You used the right words: There must be clear and obvious evidence that the call that was made on the field was incorrect.
In this case, they called it on the field as a touchdown. In replay, a few different elements of the catch were reviewed. No. 1, when did he get possession, meaning when did he get both hands on the ball with control? No. 2, after that, did he get two feet down? The last question was whether or not he survived the ground, in other words, did he hold onto the ball when he hit the ground? Even if the ball hit the ground, did he maintain control of the ball? All those elements were there to confirm this as a catch.
What they looked at in New York was the process of Ellington establishing control and bringing the ball into his body. When they reviewed that, they felt that the right hand may have come off the ball for an instant. That’s the criteria they used to reverse it, but in no way was it clear and obvious.
Replay has to be careful, because when it starts reversing calls on the field without clear and obvious evidence, it’s failing to fulfill its purpose.
Q: It is announced during replay reviews that the ruling comes from the league office that reviews the play from an off-site location. If this is true, why does the official on the field review the tablets on the sideline if they are not making the decisions? Seems like more of an acting job than anything productive.
– Douglas Schuch, Carmichael
A: It’s not an acting job, Douglas. The referee still plays a role in the decision-making process, but he doesn’t have the final say. That comes from the office in New York and is made by either Al Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating, or Russell Yurk, vice president of instant replay.
Before making that final decision, however, they want to hear what the referee has to say, and it’s important to their call. When they disagree, which is rare, New York has the final say.
Furthermore, if a decision on the field is being reversed, the referee needs to explain why it’s being reversed, and without looking at video, he’s basically grasping at straws.
I really don’t see a time when the referee won’t look at video in some form. Giving New York the final decision and eliminating the referee from going under the hood had to do with time and consistency. Anytime there is a replay, you’re looking at a stoppage of at least two minutes. And with replay on the rise, the league is trying to speed up the process. Having the same two people making those calls in New York every week should lead to more consistent decisions. Based on the first question this week, I am not so sure that is the case.
Q: Sometimes on fourth down when teams are around their opponent’s 40, they’ll take a delay-of-game penalty to give the punter more room to pin the kick. Often, the defensive team declines the penalty. Why doesn’t the kicking team commit a false start in these situations? Wouldn’t the 5-yard penalty have to be enforced and the defensive team couldn’t decline it?
– Carlo Bongiorno, Olympia, Wash.
A: That’s a good question, Carlo, but any penalty can be declined, not just delay-of-game penalties. Live-ball fouls can be declined, false starts can be declined, really any time a flag is thrown, the offended team gets the opportunity to decline the penalty.
There are instances where a penalty is actually disregarded by rule, and that has to do with certain situations like what they call a 5 vs. 15 penalty enforcement. That’s when there is a simple 5-yard penalty, like a false start, and also on the play you have a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the opponent. In that case, the 5-yard penalty is disregarded by rule, and the 15-yard penalty is enforced. Other than that unique situation, any other foul can be declined.
The interesting enforcements that have popped up lately are fouls that create a 10-second runoff. You don’t see it very often, but the defense can actually decline the 10-second runoff. They can accept the penalty yardage but decline the runoff if they want the time left on the clock.
Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.