Football

Mike Pereira: Sometimes the initials N.F.L. stand for something else, entirely

Go behind the scenes with NFL officiating guru Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira, NFL rules analyst for Fox Sports, shows viewers what goes on behind the scenes on a busy NFL Sunday.
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Mike Pereira, NFL rules analyst for Fox Sports, shows viewers what goes on behind the scenes on a busy NFL Sunday.

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 to Pereira’s review, email them to askmike@sacbee.com and include your name and location in the submission.

Q: Various phrases are used when upholding a call under review, but the most common is, “The ruling on the field is confirmed.” However, referees use a range of other statements, such as, “The ruling on the field stands.” Friends have argued that there are two distinct conclusions being announced – it’s “confirmed” when the call was correct and “upheld” when there’s a lack of irrefutable evidence to overturn it. I maintain there is no such distinction in the rules, and the variety of terminology is simply the referee’s choice of words. Who is correct?

– Mark Rakich, Sacramento

A: The NFL has tried to standardize the verbiage used by all referees when announcing the result of a replay review. I will go over this, and then you can decide who won the argument. Not all of this terminology is in the rulebook.

The referee’s favorite announcement is, “The ruling on the field is confirmed.” That means there is clear video evidence that the call on the field was correct. Their second favorite announcement is, “The ruling on the field stands.” That means that after looking at all the replay angles, the call on the field was so close that you couldn’t tell for sure whether it was right or wrong. In other words, no matter which way they ruled on the field, it would not have been changed.

Their least favorite announcement is, “The ruling on the field is changed.” That means there was clear and obvious video evidence proving that the call on the field was incorrect. Note the words, “clear and obvious.” That is the standard used to describe the video evidence. These words replaced the original standard, which was “indisputable visual evidence.”

Dean Blandino, the former vice president of NFL officiating who joined me this season at Fox, changed the verbiage. He felt that when it comes to decisions made by officials, there will always be somebody who will dispute it. Therefore, gone was “indisputable” and replaced with “clear and obvious.”

Since it’s not clear and obvious to me as to who won the argument, I will let you make that call, Mark.

Q: What time constraints, if any, do NFL coaches face when calling plays? I think once upon a time calls had to be made before the huddle broke. Obviously not appropriate with hurry-up offenses. And for the defense?

– George Young, Sacramento

A: Good question, George.

Your name brings back many memories of my friend, the late great George Young, who was the general manager of the New York Giants from 1979-97 and, for a time, my boss when I was the head of officiating in the NFL when he was the vice president of football operations.

He once asked me if I knew what NFL stood for. My friend George said NFL stood for “No F------ Logic.” Maybe George said that as he looked into the future to where the league is today. It seems to have been a great premonition that Mr. Young had.

But back to your question, George. When the league developed the coach-to-quarterback system in 1994, the ability to communicate was shut down when the team broke the huddle. But as offenses started to go no-huddle, and fast, a change had to be made. The rule was changed to say that the system gets shut off when the play clock gets down to 15 seconds. It gets turned back on as soon as the play is over.

A second system was put in place in 2008. This allowed the coach to talk to a designated defensive player on the field. The rule is exactly the same.

What is fair for the offense, is fair for the defense. Even the old George Young would have thought that was logical.

Q: Why is the pylon at the goal line/sideline placed out of bounds? Shouldn’t it be placed inbounds? With the pylon placed out of bounds, as it is, the ball breaks the plane of the goal line only if touching the pylon from an inside approach from an airborne player. If that player touches the pylon with the ball from an outside approach (which I have seen on occasion), you can technically knock down the pylon without breaking the plane of the goal line. It seems it is called an automatic touchdown if a player touches the pylon with the ball, and I don’t think it’s always accurate.

– Willie McHargue, Pleasanton

A: Another good question, Willie, but I must admit, not as easy to answer as the others.

Let’s cite the rulebook first: “The four intersections of the goal lines and sidelines must be marked at inside corners of the end zone and the sideline, by pylons. Pylons must be placed at the inside edges of the white lines and should not touch the surface of the actual playing field itself.”

That clears it up, right Willie? I didn’t think so. To me, the best way to describe the position of the pylon is to say it is out of bounds, in the end zone. The front of the pylon mirrors the plane of the goal line, so if you touch the pylon with control of the ball, you have broken the plane, and therefore have scored a touchdown.

If a loose ball touches the pylon, it has broken the plane, and is dead in the end zone for a touchback. If a runner touches the pylon he is neither inbounds nor out of bounds. Basically, when it comes to the runner, the pylon is invisible. Determining whether a runner is in or out of bounds is wholly determined by where his foot touches the ground.

So I think it’s placed at the right spot. It may not make sense to you Willie, but remember the words of the old George Young: It’s the NFL.

Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.

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